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When you donate blood, what happens to it?

If you’ve ever donated blood, you know that it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes, includes a mini-physical and a free snack afterward. But have you thought about where you blood goes after it’s donated? To ensure blood quickly and safely reaches hospitals and patients in need, it must first undergo a testing process. “The blood bag, which has the majority of the blood you donated, stays at our facility in Douglasville, then the test tubes that you see are all sent to our national testing lab in Charlotte,” explains Kristen Stancil, communications program manager at the American Red Cross Southern Blood Services Region.

When the blood arrives at the lab, it undergoes two days of testing for HIV, hepatitis, West Nile Virus and other blood-borne diseases to ensure it’s safe for distribution. “We want to ensure that there is the safest blood possible,” she explains.

Who receives donated blood

While donated blood is often used to treat trauma patients in the emergency room, it can also benefit cancer patients, women who recently gave birth, burn victims and people with bleeding disorders. “One thing that sets the American Red Cross apart is that we have a national database we can use,” she says.

For example, if you live in Georgia and your blood type isn’t available, the Red Cross can reach out to facilities across the country to find the kind you need. “We can have it shipped in, flown in, however we can get it here, but we do all we can to ensure blood is available,” says Stancil. “That’s the great thing about having a nationwide database that we can go to.” Collectively, the Red Cross provides 32,000 red blood cells annually to Piedmont Healthcare’s five facilities.

How blood is used

At the blood donation center, the staff uses a machine that spins rapidly to separate whole blood from plasma. When separated, plasma is a golden yellow color, while whole blood is dark red. Once separated, plasma can be used for a variety of purposes. “Red blood cells can be used for trauma patients or someone who is undergoing surgery,” says Stancil. “Plasma can be used for someone who has a blood disorder or for a burn victim.”

Once the components are separated, plasma is stored at negative 20 degrees and it can be frozen for up to a year. Blood can be stored for 42 days at 42 degrees Fahrenheit. “That’s why the need for blood is constant, because it doesn’t last forever,” she says. “Donating blood is so important to our community,” Stancil says. “You never know who’s going to be in need of blood and why they might need it. It could be yourself, a neighbor or a loved one.”

The Red Cross emphasizes the importance of giving blood early and often, before emergencies or disasters occur.   “It is the blood on the shelves that helps before, during and after a disaster,” Stancil explains.

“You never know when you might be able to donate because blood drives might be cancelled. It’s important to donate as soon as you’re able to or prior to a storm or other type of disaster. You never know how hard those things are going to hit or when they might happen.”

To find a blood drive near you, visit the American Red Cross.

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