Every year millions of blood and blood product transfusions are needed to save lives. Every few seconds there are people in need of blood because of trauma, surgery, childbirth complications or anaemia due to different causes. Safe blood is needed, a lot more often than you might think.
Today is ‘World Blood Donor Day’ or as I like to call it ‘World Super Hero Day’. You think that expression is a bit over the top? I would like to tell you why it isn’t.
About the donors
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about 117.4 million blood donations are collected globally every year. From 2008 to 2015 there has been an increase of 11.6 million blood donations. In order to obtain the safest blood possible the blood donors need to be volunteers and – at best – unpaid. Among this group of donors the prevalence of bloodborne viruses is lowest.
Donors have to answer an extensive questionnaire about their health and lifestyle. This questionnaire includes recent medical investigations, sexual relationships, past travels etc. People wanting to donate their blood have to be between 18 and 65 years old, weigh more than 50 kg, have to be well and healthy on the day they give blood. In the ideal case blood donors give blood regularly, which means up to every 90 days. Each time about a pint of blood (470ml) is taken out of a forearm vein which takes about 8 minutes. Every one of these donations can be life saving in three ways.
Blood out of a bottle
For people requiring a transfusion, the blood comes out of a bottle, or rather out of a bag. But what exactly is in that bag? What happens with the blood donations before they are ready to be transfused?
After a donor gives blood, it will be processed into different components and screened for traces of infectious diseases. In Ireland the diseases checked for include HIV, Hepatitis C, B and E, Syphilis, Human T-Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV), Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and West Nile Virus (WNV).
The blood then will be processed into different products. The white cells will be filtered out as they wouldn’t do their job anymore after being transfused. The three common components the blood is broken down into are red cells, platelets and plasma. Red cells carry oxygen to all the organs and their transfusion is needed after losing a large amount of blood, for instance during surgery or trauma. Platelets are small cells required for blood clotting. People might need platelet transfusions after chemotherapy which can have an impact on their proper blood clotting. Plasma is the fluid surrounding the cells in the bloodstream and contains proteins and nutrients which might be needed after severe blood loss or serious burns.
The 0 neg mystery
As you know there are different blood types which means not any blood can be given to any receiver, the blood types have to match. However it doesn’t necessarily have to be the exact blood type, there can be exceptions made in emergency situations.
There are two main blood classification systems: the AB0 System and the Rhesus System. The AB0 blood groups are A, B, AB and 0. Each of them can be either Rhesus positive or Rhesus negative. Basically every blood group can only receive blood of the same AB0 type plus blood group 0. Rhesus positive types can receive Rhesus negative blood whereas Rhesus negative types cannot receive Rhesus positive blood. Taking all of these criteria in account makes 0- the universal donor and AB+ the universal blood receiver. 0- can technically be transfused to anyone whereas people with the blood group AB+ could technically receive blood of any blood group. These are only the basics though and there are more criteria involved.
And just to mention – even though you might not be 0-, every blood donation is important, precious and more than welcome! Because someone somewhere is going to need it.
Why I think blood donors are super heroes? Because they make time to give their blood on a regular basis without getting anything in return. Simply for the reason to save people, simply as an act of solidarity.