Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The gift of blood

Brigid has a very good post up tonight about the importance of blood donation.  In the light of her brother's severe illness, and what we learned from CoolChange earlier this week, it's a very timely reminder.

I used to donate blood in South Africa.  I gave whole blood for several years, then was asked to go onto cell separation donation.  This involved taking a unit of blood out of my arm and running it through a centrifuge.  The desired elements of blood - platelets, or plasma, or whatever - were taken out in the centrifuge, then the remainder of the blood, plus an anticoagulant, was reinjected into my body.  That done, another unit of blood was drawn and the process was repeated.  It wasn't a difficult procedure - just boring, as the process could take a couple of hours.

After a year on the cell separation unit, I was asked to 'graduate' to the fresh-component team.  This group didn't donate regularly, but was on permanent call.  If certain emergency operations (e.g. organ transplants, or oncology-related surgery) needed particular blood components, and demanded that they be absolutely fresh and at full potency rather than refrigerated or otherwise preserved, members of the team would be called in - often in the small hours of the morning - to donate blood.  I've spent many hours in a donation room a few doors away from an operating theater, watching my blood go through the centrifuge.  As each cycle was completed, a nurse would rush the pouch directly to the theater, for immediate infusion into the patient.  It felt good, knowing that one was directly and immediately saving a life like that.

Alas, when I came to the USA, the blood donation people in Louisiana looked at me askance.  The exchange went something like this:

"Oh, you've donated before?  How many units?"

"At least a hundred, plus at least fifty or sixty cell separation donations."

"Oh, wonderful!  Where's your donor card? . . . Hey, wait a minute - this says 'South African Red Cross'!"

"Well, yeah - that's where I'm from.  South Africa."

"AAAAAAHHHH!  African blood cooties!  Run for your lives!"

Sadly, I've never been allowed to donate blood over here, but I can understand the reason for that.  I'm informed that if someone's not developed any immunity to some of Africa's nastier bugs (e.g. malaria, sleeping sickness, bilharzia and others), it can be dangerous to give them blood from someone who's been exposed to such evils.  Since I've run into all those and then some, I guess I've been kicked out of the local donor pool.  However, that's not an excuse most of my readers can use!

Seriously, friends, please go read what Brigid has to say, and consider donating blood yourselves.  It's vitally important - and the beneficiary one day might be you.  'Nuff said.



FarmGirl said...

Unfortunately they won't take blood from me because I don't weigh enough. Otherwise I'd be happy to donate. Hey, free cookies!

Home on the Range said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Home on the Range said...

Sorry - the deleted comment was me, been awake 20 hours, typos.

Farmgirl - the Range offers a "stuff them with biscuits and bacon" training and weight gain program (.45 reloading and dog hair gathering are optional curriculums).

Thanks for thinking of us, and Peter, thank you, my dear friend, for the link. Midwest Chick and others of similar genetic makeup have offered to get tested as bone marrow donors for him. It all means so much. He is home from week one chemo, and sounded in good spirits tonight. I had a head cold so kept away this week, but we've been talking daily.

Anonymous said...

For years I was not allowed to give blood because of medication taken for the after-effects of Rheumatic Fever. Then, when I was allowed again I became an extreme donor.

In the mid-90's I went hunting in Africa for the first time. (Spent about a month there my first time as I also visited some friends and family). I was surprised when I came back to find out that I had a LIFETIME ban on blood donations as a result of that trip. The Red Cross later modified that to a seven year ban (I think that is right).

Doesn't matter though. As a result of several mission trips to Haiti and other Central American countries, I have a brand new lifetime ban.

Monkeywrangler said...


The URL is for the Red Cross donation- finder/scheduler. Just input your own zipcode and a search radius, but leave the dates blank and it will pull up all the upcoming donation sites.

Anonymous said...

I'm under the Mad Cow ban. I spent too many months in Europe in the early 1990s, so I can no longer donate. However, I notice that my friends who were stationed in Germany can still donate within the military hospital system. Says a lot about the American Red Cross, doesn't it?


tweell said...

I will not donate any more blood. I used to give regularly, then somehow got on their special list, because I was called 6 weeks after every donation and harassed until I came in.

I finally lost it when my wife was dying of cancer. When called the second time in the same day, I told them that if they called me again, I would NEVER give them another drop. 30 minutes later a supervisor called and demanded I come in the next day.

I printed up a nice cease-and-desist letter to the state head, my neighbor mailed it special delivery, signature required. I have no idea why they pushed it so far, my blood is standard O+ and nothing special that I know of.

Borepatch said...

I'm in the same boat as LittleRed1. I used to organize the blood drives on campus and while I haven't donated as often as you Peter, I've literally given gallons. But they won't take it any more.

Dan said...

Our area (SW Florida) now offers the cell separation donation, and that's what I do. They call it ALYX,and it's awesome. It uses a smaller needle, and they replace your plasma so you don't feel dizzy afterwards. It's a lot quicker than you described, too -- 45 minutes or so from start to finish. Only real downside is you can only donate every 4 months.

And since Brigid mentioned marrow donation, please please please consider signing up for the Be the Match blood marrow registry. It's free to get on the list, and only requires a painless cheek swab. Your chances of getting called are less than 1 in 500, and even if you're called, the donation process is pretty much painless.

JT said...

Looks like I am in good company - can't donate because of the time we were stationed in Germany. I think it is odd that they don't even want it for research purposes.

FrankC said...

I would have thought that since you have been exposed to various African cooties (and not been killed by them) then your blood would have a beneficial effect.

Christina RN LMT said...

I'm in the Mad Cow Band (or should that be "Banned"?). I donated regularly through United Blood Services until that fateful day they asked me about European commissary meat purchases in the '80s. So much for that!

Cybrludite said...

I get the African Blood Cooties runaround when I donate due to a college girlfriend having been from South Africa. I have to explain each time that she wasn't from any of the countries on their list, and she emigrated with her family as a toddler to Canada in the early-to-mid '70s before getting to donate.