Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Have you donated blood recently?

I had a completely different blog posting written last night, all ready to go this morning, but when I double checked the news just now, I found this story, Number of Blood Donors Decreases as Safety Concerns Increase and it really concerned me.

When I worked in an ICU, I hung many units of blood on patients who were critically ill. When I worked on a medical unit, I gave many units to patients with cancer. They needed the blood to live. I’ve seen, first hand, the power of a unit of blood.

I have donated blood but not nearly as many as I should have by now. I’m at number 25 or 26. The Canadian system of blood donations changed drastically several years ago and sometimes the wait to give blood can be a couple of hours. I would justify not staying because I’m busy. Now that I think about it, how busy am I that I can’t sit and read or chat on the phone while I’m waiting to give my blood? And, to top it off, I’m O negative, the type of blood they really need.

If you are able, do you donate blood? Did you know that your one donation can help more than one person? After your blood donation is complete, the blood is tested for certain diseases that can be passed through blood. The blood is then separated because the blood isn’t used as is. It’s separated into red blood cells, platelets and plasma.

Red blood cells are given to people who may be anemic (too few red blood cells), losing blood or receiving cancer treatment (chemotherapy or radiation). Since the red blood cells are the ones that transport oxygen around the body, if you’re anemic, the oxygen isn’t getting around, resulting in fatigue or light-headedness.

People who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment can end up with very low in platelets, which are manufactured in the bone marrow, liver, and spleen. This means that they can bleed very easily and this could result in a hemorrhage. By receiving platelets from blood donations, their own blood will be able to clot more effectively. Unfortunately, the transfused platelets only last a couple of days, so repeat transfusions may be needed, which really increases the need for donated platelets.

Finally, plasma is given to people who are bleeding in order to increase the amount of blood-clotting factors in the blood. People who don’t have blood-clotting factors may also be given plasma.

So, you see, the blood isn’t just taken from one person and given to another.

There’s also a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. When you give blood, it has to be matched to the person who is getting it. Of course, we know about the compatibility of blood types, but some patients have many antibodies that cause reactions to blood donations. This means that every time they need blood, it can take a while to find a unit of blood that can be matched with theirs, without causing a reaction. I remember having one patient in the ICU who had so many antibodies in her blood that it was getting close to impossible to find a unit of blood that she could safely have.

What can happen if you get an incompatible unit of blood? If you receive blood, the procedure is usually that a nurse will take your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse just before giving the blood, and then again shortly after the transfusion has begun. This is because one of the first signs of a blood reaction is a fever. You could also experience chills, rash, pain in your lower back, light-headedness, and dizziness. If you experience any of these, the blood transfusion should be stopped immediately. While the problem may not be blood-related, it’s safest to stop the blood first and then to find out.

So, are you thinking of giving blood yet? Yes, there’s a needle involved – and it’s not small. But, experienced nurses can insert the needle with a minimum of discomfort to you. I think in the 25 times I’ve given blood, it’s hurt only a couple of times. Some people feel dizzy afterwards and even faint. That does happen, but not to many people. I was very shocked when it happened to me after giving about 10 donations or so. I have no idea why it did and I felt awful for a little bit. And I have to admit that I was very nervous the next few times I donated, but it never happened again.

Giving blood is really easy – honest! It’s a bit time consuming sometimes – and they ask a lot of questions. The blood donation programs are trying to do their best to keep the blood system as safe as is possible and that mean drawing out procedures and ruling out people who fall into certain groups. While I do have issues with that, I do understand why they are doing what they’re doing.

If you are able to give blood but haven’t, I ask you to consider it. It is inconvenient, and a bit uncomfortable sometimes, but if you think about what a unit of blood does, isn’t it worth it? If you or someone you love needs blood one day, won’t you feel grateful to the people who did take the time?

News for today:

Number of Blood Donors Decreases as Safety Concerns Increase
Parents' depression can weigh on children
Study: Heavy antacid use among older blacks leads to higher risk of dementia
Study suggests nonpharmaceutical interventions may be helpful in severe influenza outbreaks
Osteoporosis screening and treatment may be cost-effective for selected older men
Binge Drinkers Prefer Beer Because It's Easy to Buy
Study Suggests High-Dose Fish Oil May Significantly Improve Behavior in Children with ADHD
Sunblock and Sunscreen Are the Same, Right? Wrong, Says Harvard Medical School Report
Breast Cancer Survivors Carry Optimistic Outlook on Life, Yet Lack Critical Information about Reducing Recurrence
FDA Approves Novel Antiretroviral Drug
Marijuana-derived drug approved for cancer pain

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