Blood is that thick, red liquid that flows through us all. It transports oxygen and food to our tissues, and waste products back to organs where they can be processed and removed from the body. It is a complex liquid made up of red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells that protect us from germs, and platelets that help to stop blood loss when we are injured, all suspended in a pale yellow liquid called plasma made up of other vital proteins. It is one thing we all have to give, one thing that can save the life of an accident victim, a child with cancer or sickle cell disease, a mother during a caesarean section, a grandfather with a bleeding peptic ulcer.
So, when last did you donate blood? Have you ever thought about being a blood donor? Most of us only think about it when we know someone who is very sick and needs blood urgently, or if there’s a blood drive at school or at work, but it certainly isn’t something we think about regularly. Yet, many of us will need blood at some point in our lives and perhaps now is a good time to think about where that blood will come from. We assume, actually we expect that when we, or our loved ones need blood, it will be there, immediately available! The truth is, some people who need blood urgently will have to wait because demand may exceed supply, and that wait will severely compromise health and possibly survival. Depending on the circumstances, a transfusion can mean different things. The great thing about blood is that it can be separated into different components. Each unit of whole blood that is donated is separated into red blood cells (called packed cells) and plasma. Plasma can be further divided into components including: platelets, which help blood to clot and cryoprecipitate which contains clotting factors that also help to control bleeding. So although we mostly think of transfusions as receiving blood (which we now know are packed red cells) some people will receive platelet transfusion and others will need cryoprecipitate. That way we get the most out of a single donation.
Nowadays, we like to talk about heroes a lot. Social media is replete with stories of people who happen to be in the right place at the right time and who act in heroic ways and are immediately recognized for their action. Their pictures or their videos are all over the Internet. 100,000 likes later they get to be on Breakfast TV and Ellen, alongside those they have saved. Names and faces that become familiar to us all, for a while anyway. But heroes aren’t always publically recognized. A one-time blood donation could save the lives of 4 people – FOUR people who might each need a different type of transfusion! A regular blood donor could give blood every 2 months, that’s 6 – 24 lives made better in a year! Even if you give blood once a year, what could be more heroic?
People with sickle cell disease (SCD) need you to be heroes more than ever. Sickle red blood cells have shorter survival times than normal red blood cells so people born with SCD have long-standing anemia, or weak blood. If for any reason, their blood count falls, and their blood weakens further, they can’t compensate for that fall and could go into life-threatening shock. Only an urgent blood transfusion can save their life. Additionally, some people with SCD, most often children, have a very high risk for having a stroke, which can cause them to become permanently disabled. Fortunately, there is a way of predicting those children with a high risk for having a stroke and doing something about it. That something is giving blood transfusions regularly, usually once a month. As you can imagine, that requires a huge amount of blood.
Not everyone can donate blood of course, but becoming a blood donor is a lot easier than you think. You can find the nearest Canadian Blood Services clinic nearest to you on line:
As well as all the information you will need about what to expect before and during your donation. If you want to do something amazing, that can truly make a difference to someone’s life, be a hero - become a blood donor!