The Blood Matters Blog ·

Just Donated Blood? Here's Where It Goes.

You've donated blood. Now what? Here's what happens following your donation. Plus: What to expect before giving and why your donation can have such a dramatic, life-saving impact.

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Blood donation is a selfless act that plays a crucial role in saving lives. But have you ever wondered what happens to your blood once you've rolled up your sleeve and made a donation? The journey of donated blood is a complex process that involves several critical steps to ensure it is safe and effective for those in need. Let’s map your blood's fascinating journey from you to Our Blood Institute to hospitals to local patients in need.

1. Collection and Initial Testing

When you donate blood, it is collected into sterile bags containing anticoagulants to prevent clotting. Each donation typically amounts to about one pint of blood. Immediately after collection, your blood is labeled with a unique barcode that tracks it through the entire process.

Next, samples are taken from each donation to test for various infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis, and others. These tests are crucial to ensure the safety of the blood supply. If any tests come back positive, the blood is discarded, and the donor is notified.

2. Processing and Separation

Once the initial testing is complete, the blood undergoes processing to separate it into its individual components. This is done using a centrifuge, which spins the blood at high speeds. The centrifugal force separates the blood into three primary components:

  • Red Blood Cells (RBCs): These cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and are used to treat patients with anemia, trauma or during surgery.
  • Plasma: The liquid portion of blood, plasma contains proteins, clotting factors and antibodies. It is often used to treat patients with liver conditions, burns or severe infections.
  • Platelets: These small cell fragments are crucial for blood clotting and are often used in cancer treatments and surgeries to prevent excessive bleeding.

Each component is collected into separate bags for further testing and storage.

3. Further Testing and Storage

Before being sent to hospitals, the separated blood components undergo additional testing to confirm their safety and compatibility. This includes blood typing and crossmatching to ensure they match the recipients' blood type and Rh factor.

  • Red Blood Cells: Stored at 1-6°C for up to 42 days.
  • Plasma: Can be frozen and stored for up to a year.
  • Platelets: Stored at room temperature with constant agitation to prevent clumping and must be used within five days.

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4. Distribution

Once processed, tested, and deemed safe, the blood components are ready for distribution. We here at OBI coordinate with hospitals and clinics to supply them with the specific components they need. This process is highly time-sensitive, especially for platelets, due to their five-day shelf life.

5. Transfusion

Finally, the blood components reach the patients in need. Transfusions can be life-saving for individuals undergoing surgery, those with trauma injuries, cancer patients, people with chronic illnesses like anemia, and many others. Each pint of donated blood can help save up to three lives, making every donation incredibly valuable.

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What to Expect

  • Medical Screening

    Before you can donate, we’ll ask some questions to make sure you can do so safely. These questions – which can be answered in advance on the same day of your donation through Donor EXPRESS – will examine your health history, behaviors and recent travel, which could affect the safety of your blood. We’ll also check your temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin level before clearing you to donate.

  • Donation

    Once we know that it’s safe for you to give, it’s time for the donation itself. We will need access to your inner elbow area, which we’ll clean and then use a small needle to begin the donation. The actual blood donation takes about 15-20 minutes.

  • Canteen

    After you donate, we’ll ask you to spend 10-15 minutes in the canteen area, enjoying free snacks and drinks. This time will ensure you’re feeling well after your donation. In total, the full experience will take about an hour, from start to finish.

Why Donating Blood Matters

In the United States alone, a blood transfusion occurs every two seconds. There were more than 15 million RBC, platelet and plasma transfusions in the U.S. in 2021, according to the Association for Blood Donor Professionals.

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Even with such high demand, collection can be a struggle. Just 3% of Americans give blood each year – imagine how many lives would be saved by adding just one more percent!

Don't know if you're eligible to donate? We've built a helpful FAQ page with information on age, illness, tattoos, pregnancy, donation windows, and more.

If you have never donated, that's OK! We do, however, encourage you to join us in our mission to provide our community members life-saving blood when they need it most.

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