Donating Blood Is Vital. But Where Does It Go Afterwards?
If you plan on donating blood, you might be curious about the journey your vital fluid takes once it’s left your veins. Maybe you’ve watched the collection process and wondered about all the bits and bobs—maybe you even know a bit about the parts we all get to see. Anyone would want to know more about what’s happening to something so personal and what happens when you donate your blood is a curious and interesting thing. Here are a few things you should know.
The Whole Kit and Kaboodle
The most common form of donation is that of whole blood, or all the red and white cells, plasma, and chemical analytes that make up this very crucial red liquid of ours. Often, this process looks pretty barbaric to the layman. The typical collection of it involves little more than seeing your vital fluid sucked up into a bag before you’re sent on your way.
In these cases, your unit of blood then heads off to a lab. Here is where the majority of interaction with your donation is performed. First things first, the fluid is centrifuged. This is the term for the process in which it is spun at high speeds, resulting in separation of the various components.
Donating Blood Is Not The Same For Everyone
Why is this separation necessary? If you’re used to donating blood, you’re more than likely aware of the difference in blood types between humans. What you might not realize, however, is that each component of it must be tested for compatibility as well. It’s pretty common knowledge, for example, that type O- is the universal donor, but it’s a bit more complicated than that: type O- is the universal donor for red cells, while type AB is the universal plasmadonor. This variance between the individual parts necessitates the breaking down of the whole blood, decreasing the likelihood of the recipient’s body rejecting the donation.
There’s another reasoning behind breaking whole blood down—each component serves a different purpose. Your unit of fluid, split into its individual pieces, could end up going to four unique recipients based on their needs. Red cells, for example, are vital in patients suffering from anemia, while platelets may go to someone having a surgery to help clot the blood afterward. Because of this, depending on your type and when you go to donate, it just might be separated before your very eyes! This is done with what’s known as an apheresis machine, which will take either your red cells, plasma, or platelets, and return what isn’t needed.
In some cases, donating blood may be used for research purposes. Because of the compatibility talked about earlier, white cells are separated from red cells before donation. If done during collection, those white cells can head off to a lab to help with a variety of applications!
Out for Delivery
If going to a blood bank, your now-separated vitals will next head to a storage facility. Each component has a different shelf-life, with platelets lasting only five days, while plasma can be frozen for up to a year. When a hospital puts in an order for your type, your donation is loaded into a van and distributed to whomever needs it. This delivery service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Once it arrives at the hospital, what comes next is pretty obvious—the patient receives your donation! Done through an IV, this process basically looks like the reverse of the collection process but with an enormous payoff: the gift of life. If you can, consider donating blood. You can very well save another life!
Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She graduated from the University of California-Sacramento with a degree in Journalism.