The Importance of Blood Donations and Blood Bank Laboratories
Transfusions can help a variety of patients
Many individuals may not think about the importance of donating blood until a family member or friend needs a blood transfusion. However, the health care community relies on blood donors to provide this life-saving component for those in need. There is no substitute for blood; therefore, it is essential to donate regularly to keep our blood supply stable.
People often donate blood after a natural disaster or during a community blood drive, but blood is needed each and every day. According to the American Red Cross, someone in the United States needs a blood transfusion every two seconds. These donations help patients of all ages and in every walk of life. A blood transfusion may help someone following a motor vehicle accident, someone with a bleeding disorder, a burn victim, a newborn, a surgical operation, a sickle-cell patient or a cancer patient. The patient scenario possibilities are endless when it comes to individuals in need of transfusions.
A blood transfusion can replace the liquid or cellular components found in the blood. A patient may receive a red blood cell, plasma or platelet transfusion. A patient receiving a red blood cell transfusion should experience an increase in hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the red blood cell.
Hemoglobin helps to distribute oxygen throughout the body.
Plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, contains coagulation factors and other substances. Individuals suffering from clotting factor deficiencies, liver failure and severe burns are often recipients of plasma transfusions.
Platelets are cellular fragments that are necessary for blood clotting. Extremely low platelet counts, which may be seen in cancer patients or those receiving chemotherapy treatment, may require platelet transfusions.
Donating blood is relatively simple. The process typically takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. Following arrival at the donation site, the person donating answers a series of questions, and a small health screen is performed to ensure they are an appropriate candidate for donation.
Once cleared for donation, the donor relaxes in a recliner, a phlebotomist collects several tubes of blood, and a blood donation bag is filled.
Once the appropriate amount of blood is collected, the donor is observed for a few minutes, provided light refreshments and instructed to take it easy, drink plenty of water and ensure that the donor’s next meal is a good meal. Following donation, a donor’s unit of blood is labeled with a unique number so that the blood processing center can match a unit with its donor. The donor is provided this number with their donation paperwork.
The unit of blood is stored on ice or kept at a refrigerated temperature until it is transferred to a blood processing center. The donation information is often sent electronically to the blood center ahead of the unit.
The most common donation is whole blood. Once the unit of whole blood reaches the donation center, the blood is placed in a centrifuge to separate it into the different components that will be transfused. The blood is separated into red blood cells, plasma and platelets. These individual components must be stored at the appropriate temperature. Red blood cells are stored in the refrigerator, plasma must be stored in a freezer, and platelets are kept at room temperature. The tubes of blood that were collected during the donation process are sent to the laboratory.
In the laboratory, a medical laboratory scientist performs tests to determine the donor’s blood type and tests the blood for various infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis and cytomegalovirus, among others. If the donated blood is positive for an infectious disease, the donor is notified, and the unit of blood is discarded.
If the infectious disease tests are negative, the blood type results are sent to the donation center. The components (red blood cells, plasma and platelets) are labeled with product name, blood type and donation number. Before the components are transfused to a patient in the hospital, the blood bank laboratory must perform testing to verify compatibility between the donor units and the patient needing a transfusion. As little as five milliliters of incompatible blood transfused to a patient could result in death. Medical laboratory scientists play a crucial role in ensuring that patients receive compatible components for transfusion.
Blood donation is a simple and selfless act that can make you feel good about yourself and supports local health care needs. In less than one hour, almost anyone can become a superhero by donating a unit of blood and saving a life. Go be a hero today!
To learn more about the medical laboratory profession, visit www.lsuhs.edu/mls.
Krystal Pearce, MHS, MLS (ASCP) CM, is an assistant professor of medical laboratory science, and Stephanie Blackburn, EdD, MLS (ASCP), is the program director and assistant professor of laboratory science at LSU Health Shreveport.