Published on January 15, 2021

National Blood Donor Month; start the New Year by giving life

You can start the year off right by helping to save lives and improve the health of many in the Bluegrass by participating in National Blood Donor Month this January. 

“Blood cannot be manufactured,” said Mary Brajuha, vice president for Kentucky Blood Center (KBC). “If volunteer blood donors didn’t roll up their sleeves every day, there wouldn’t be blood on the shelves at hospitals when surgeries, traumas, and cancer treatments happen.”

On a monthly basis, Ephraim McDowell Health averages giving about 150 blood transfusions, about 45 units of fresh frozen plasma product, and about 16 units of platelet pheresis product.

Rick Scott, Systems Director of Laboratory/Pathology Services said these types of donations are typically transfused to patients with the following conditions: trauma patients (auto accidents, gun shot wounds, and other accidents resulting in loss of blood); cancer patients (primarily due to chemo treatments); gastrointestinal bleed patients; surgeries and/or patients with genetic disorders such as an iron deficiency anemia, Pernicious anemia, etc.

“It is very important to have an adequate supply of blood on hand due to the emergent need of blood for life-threatening conditions or injuries due to blood loss,” Scott said.

There are many reasons why people across Kentucky need blood products. Knowing that all of the blood donated through KBC stays local to help a fellow Kentuckian makes donating blood through KBC an even better way to start off the New Year. 

“The blood donation process should not be painful, though there is normally two points in the process where temporary discomfort is involved,” Brajuha said. “During screening, donors will have their finger pricked to test their hemoblogin (iron) levels. The actual blood donation is done using a needle, but the needle stick is quick and in a normal donation, you won’t feel the needle during the donation time.”

The entire process, Brajuha said, takes 30 to 40 minutes, although the actual donation process, where blood is taken to be stored, usually takes about 12.  One blood donation takes one pint of blood from the donor. This may seem like a lot to some, but an individual has up to 12 pints of blood in their body. 

A person’s body replaces the blood volume in 48 hours, however, Brajuha said it can take four to eight weeks for the red blood cells to be replaced. Blood donations can be made every 56 days, and platelets can be donated every two weeks, up to a maximum of 24 times a year. In fact, a person can also donate red blood cells through automation every 112 days. 

However, there are many factors that can exclude a person from being able to donate blood. Even with some eliminations, Brajuha said it is best to inquire if you’re eligible because FDA guidelines for blood donation have continued to evolve and change over the years. 

“There are a variety of things that can preclude someone from donating,” Brajuha said. “We encourage anyone who wants to donate to try. While circumstances can sometimes cause a temporary deferral, it’s absolutely worth trying. The FDA revises guidelines regularly, so we encourage those who have been told not to donate before to try again.”

Some exclusions include certain cancers, traveling to an area considered endemic with malaria which requires waiting three months upon return, also donors who have spent time that adds up to five years or more in France or Ireland between 1980-2001, and anyone who has spent more than three months in the United Kingdom from 1980-1996.

Nonetheless, there is good news. People who have high blood pressure, allergies, diabetes or have received a flu shot can donate whenever they are ready. 

“Once a person donates blood, we send off samples to our lab for testing,” Brajuha said. “16-18 tests are run on every blood donation to meet FDA standards and ensure that the blood is safe to transfuse to patients. While the testing is going on, the blood is processed and split into components. Each whole blood donation is divided to make red cells (what is used for a blood transfusion), plasma and platelets. Once the testing is returned, the blood is ready to be shipped to hospitals around the Commonwealth. Depending on the demand for the blood type, a blood donation could be on its way to a hospital within 48 hours of the donation. Pretty amazing.”

Prior to donating, Brajuha said it is important to make sure a patient is feeling well and healthy. It is also equally important to eat a good meal and drink plenty of fluids. Once signed in and having presented a government ID, the patient will fill out a questionnaire and be screened by team members. After this point, a mini health check will be conducted to pass the screening process and then it is on to the donation area.

Donors must be 16 with a parent permission, and 17 years old without. Children are not allowed in the phlebotomy area although can wait in the canteen area under normal circumstances. Due to COVID-19, donors are asked to not bring a guest to donate. 

“The best way to determine eligibility is to try to donate,” Brajuha said. “There will be discomfort, but it is usually quick. And, in the end, each donation saves three lives – most donors find the small amount of pain worth the satisfaction.”

For more information call (800) 775-2522.