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Ask the Doc

April 2012 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: I made a blood donation early last week and it got me thinking about the timeline of donated blood. Can you tell me how long it takes, once I donate, for my blood to reach a patient who needs it for a transfusion?

A: First, thank you for your generous blood donation. By now, you no doubt have already made a difference in the life of someone in need. Congratulations!

As soon as your whole blood donation has been collected at a Memorial Blood Centers donor center or community-sponsored blood drive, it is processed and prepared for transfusion to a patient—a process that ensures that the blood is safe, and that the right blood type and product is available for the right patient. The journey, from start to finish, involves five very important steps and typically takes about 10 days.

Step 1: Preparing your blood

After your unit of blood is collected—along with several small vials used for testing—it is labeled, and then transported to the nearest of our two component laboratories. Our Duluth facility would service the Ashland area, with the other facility located in St. Paul. The small vials for testing are transported to the donor testing laboratory in St. Paul.

Step 2: Separating blood components

Once your whole blood donation arrives at the component lab, it is separated into its three essential components: red cells, platelets, and plasma.

Step 3: Testing

The small sample sent to the donor testing lab is used to type your blood, which includes identifying the ABO type and a positive or negative Rh factor. In addition, each vial of blood is tested for safety, including tests for:

  • HBV (Hepatitis B Virus)
  • HCV (Hepatitis C Virus)
  • HIV (the virus that causes AIDS)
  • Syphilis
  • West Nile Virus (WNV)
  • Sickle cell trait (performed on donors enrolling in the sickle cell program)
  • Unexpected red cell antibodies that the donor may have formed in response to an earlier exposure to blood (e.g., through transfusion or pregnancy)

No blood is released by Memorial Blood Centers for transfusion without passing the required tests. Although it is rare to find donated blood that may transmit infection, those units of blood that are reactive for viral markers are not released for transfusion. A combination of pre-donation screening and rigorous testing ensures the safety of the blood we supply. In addition, as a safety precaution, we maintain a list of ineligible blood donors and check donors against this list before allowing them to give blood.

Step 4: Storage and transport

After your whole blood has been divided, passed all tests, and been properly typed and labeled, it is stored in large refrigerators and freezers at either our St. Paul or Duluth facility. It is now ready for distribution to hospitals and patients, when the need arises. Upon receipt of an order from one of our local hospitals or other partners, the blood components are carefully packed in special temperature-controlled containers and then transported via Memorial Blood Centers’ delivery trucks or other authorized couriers.

Step 5: Transfusing your blood to patients in need

The final step in your donated blood’s journey is when the right type of donation you have made reaches the right patient.
Memorial Blood Centers requires more than 2,000 donations every week just to meet the needs of the 30+ local hospitals we serve. And while the blood that saves lives in emergencies may already be on the shelves, a stable and readily available blood supply ensures that tomorrow’s accident victims or premature newborns will have the blood they need as well.

So thank you for your past donations. Please continue to donate blood as often as you can—every 56 days for whole blood--and encourage your friends and family to donate, too. In fact, making an appointment is easy and convenient at www.MBC.org/searchdrives. You can search by zip code for a community blood drive near you or make an appointment at one of our Northland donor centers: Essentia Health in Superior or Burning Tree Plaza in Duluth. You can also call us at 1-888-448-3253.

Jed Gorlin, M.D. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers. Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers.

Send us your questions at askthedoc@MBC.org. Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives.