Saving lives

So when you give a unit of blood how many people do you think you might save?
If you don’t know what happens to your blood once you have given it to us then read on.

Once you have given the blood it is packed up and sent to one of our manufacturing centres where it can be made into a number of products as well as a pack of red cells. We have 23 routinely made different components in NHSBT. Each of these products can be supplied in most blood groups to hospitals at their request. Not all of them are made from blood donated in England and Wales but the vast majority of them are.

Products made from whole blood are
Red cells – used to treat patients with severe anaemia or blood loss. Some units are split into six smaller packs for babies depending on the blood group and other results. Red cells have a shelf life of 35 days but are usually used considerably more quickly. They are kept at 4oC in a fridge. The most versatile blood groups are O- and O+ but the units we find we have most pressure on and need to call for donors are O- and B-
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Platelets – these are small cells in the blood that are responsible for triggering the clotting process to stop bleeding. They are given to patients when their platelet counts get low, for example after chemotherapy, to prevent bleeding or they can also be used to treat bleeding in an emergency. Platelets can also be sourced from apheresis donors who may give two or three units of platelets in one go and around 70% of our platelets are produced this way. However the other platelets are made from whole blood where the platelets from four donors are split off from the red cells and pooled to make a single pack. They need to be kept warm and shaken gently and only have a shelf life of seven days. The most versatile platelet groups are A- and AB- but A+ and group B are also very useful.

Plasma – this is the fluid that makes up the blood around the cells in it. It contains clotting factors which are proteins used to form clots to stop bleeding. Plasma is used in severe bleeding after trauma or child birth. Each unit of red cells can be used to make one unit of plasma which can be kept frozen for up to 18 months. It may seem surprising, but because of the risk of a side effect in patients called TRALI (Transfusion related acute lung injury) which is caused by antibodies in the blood, this is only produced from male donors. Women have a much higher chance of having antibodies due to pregnancy. Screening for antibodies is possible but expensive and we are able to produce all that hospitals need from our male donors and apheresis donors.
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Cryoprecipitate – as it sounds this is a precipitate made when plasma is frozen. It contains a number of proteins used in clotting the blood but in particular a substance called fibrinogen which is usually given to people who have had severe massive bleeding. Fibrinogen is also needed for clotting the blood and can run out in very sick patients. Usually cryoprecipitate from five donors is pooled and given at the same time. This is kept frozen for up to three years.

White cells or granulocytes are pooled from 10 donations to give to people who are very ill with insufficient white cells to fight an existing infection, often after chemotherapy. This is not a commonly made product and is only made to order but can be life-saving.

So you can see that you could conceivably provide not only a unit of red cells but could also contribute to a pool of platelets, provide a unit of plasma and a unit of cryoprecipitate or provide six red cell packs for babies. Surely that’s got to be worth the effort of giving your blood.
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We would like to be in a position in the future to let donors know which hospital their blood has gone to. If you think this is a good idea please ‘like’ this blog or let us know.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • That’s a very interesting article, thank you.

    I think it would be a great idea for you to tell donors where their blood is being used. I would love to know where my blood ends up, I know I’m doing some good by donating but having that extra bit of information would make it so much more real and meaningful.

  • Thank you for letting us know this Alexander and thank you for your commitment as a blood donor.
    Merry Xmas