What Happens to Donated Blood?

Your blood donation goes through several steps in its way to helping someone in need.

Have you ever wondered exactly what happens to your donated blood? Your blood goes on an amazing journey!

Step One: Donation

You arrive for your blood donation appointment. For a whole blood donation, about one pint of blood is collected; several small test tubes of blood are also collected for testing. Your donation, test tubes and donor record are labeled with an identical bar code label. Donated blood is kept on ice before being taken to a Red Cross center for processing; the test tubes go to the lab.

Step Two: Processing

At the processing center, information about your donation is scanned into a computer database. Most whole blood donations are spun in “centrifuges” to separate it into transfusable components: red cells, platelets and plasma. Each component is packaged as a “unit,” a standardized amount that doctors will use when transfusing a patient.

Step Three: Testing

Once your test tubes arrive at a testing laboratory, a dozen tests are performed to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases. Test results are transferred electronically to the processing center within 24 hours. If a test result is positive, your donation will be discarded, and you will be notified.

Step Four: Storage

When test results are received, units suitable for transfusion are labeled and stored. Red cells are stored in refrigerators for up to 42 days. Platelets are stored at room temperature in agitators for up to five days. Plasma is frozen and stored in freezers for up to a year.

Step Five: Distribution

Blood is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hospitals typically keep some blood units on their shelves, but may call for more at any time, such as in case of large-scale emergencies.

Step Six: Transfusion

When an ill or injured patient arrives at a hospital or treatment center, physicians determine whether the patient requires a transfusion and, if so, which type. Blood transfusions are given to patients in a wide range of circumstances, including serious injuries (such as in a car crash), surgeries, childbirth, anemia, blood disorders, cancer treatments and more.

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