Emory Magtang filters white blood cells from red blood cells at the Canadian Blood Services clinic in Vancouver.

What happens to your blood after donating?

No matter how many times someone has donated, every unit of blood goes through the same rigorous testing each time.

This is Part 3 in a series about donating blood and Canadian Blood Services.


Thanks to Chilliwack blood donors, the goal for the In Memory of Penny Lett blood drive has been surpassed.

As of July 12 (the second of five clinics for the two-month long blood drive) a total of 160 units of blood had been donated and more than 100 people signed up to be part of the ‘Penny’ team with Canadian Blood Services’ Partners For Life program. The goal was to collect 125 units in 2013 to honour the former Progress reporter’s 125 blood donations.

But what happens with all that blood? It doesn’t simply go directly from you to a hospital, and get pumped into a patient in need. It’s much more complex and safer than that.

When blood donations come into the CBS Vancouver location, they are put in quarantine and a sample is sent to Calgary to test for viral markers like hepatitis, West Nile, and HIV, plus infections, and the donor’s blood type.

No matter how many times someone has donated, even if they’re making their 100th donation and nothing has changed since their first one, every single unit of blood goes through the same rigorous testing each time.

After it has passed all of the tests, the blood is released to hospitals within 48 hours from when was collected. CBS services 84 hospitals across B.C. and the Yukon. To get there, the blood travels by bus, taxi, courier, plane, air ambulance, and ferry.

Before it can be sent to patients in hospitals, the staff at CBS Vancouver has to prepare the blood for use. They work around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get donations out the door as quickly as possible.

The majority of the blood collected is known as ‘whole blood’ donations, meaning they contain red blood cells, plasma, and platelets which contain white blood cells. All mobile clinics, like the ones that pull into Chilliwack, only collect units of whole blood.

Once the whole blood arrives in Vancouver, it is placed into a centrifuge.

Like an amusement ride, the machine rapidly spins the blood around in circles, separating the three components of the blood.

The end result is a blood bag containing a three-layered product, similar to when oil sits atop vinegar. The plasma, making up 55 per cent of whole blood, sits at the top. The red cells make up 45 per cent and they fall to the bottom. Making up less than one per cent of whole blood are the platelets and white blood cells which create a thin layer between the plasma and red blood cells.

From there, the blood is put through an extraction machine which separates each component from one blood bag into different bags. The red blood cells still contain some white blood cells, which then have to be filtered out.

Blood donations must be used within five days.

“There’s never going to be enough blood because it can expire. The sooner we can use the blood, the better,” says Marcelo Dominguez, communications specialist with CBS.

Each component of whole blood has a different shelf life. Platelets are only good for five days after collection, red cells for 42 days, and plasma can last for up to one year if frozen at -25 degrees Celsius or colder.

CBS also takes donations of just platelets, because of its short shelf life.

Donating platelets is a longer process than donating whole blood — it takes approximately two hours, about twice as long as whole blood. The screening is also more stringent, and in B.C., you can only donate platelets by going to the Vancouver CBS clinic.

On the plus side, people can donate more frequently every 14 days (unlike every 56 days for whole blood), and the setup for the donor is more comfortable with bigger chairs and personal TVs.

It takes four platelet donations from whole blood to create one ‘platelet pool’ which makes up a complete platelet donation.

On average, the CBS Vancouver clinic processes 500 to 600 donations of whole blood a day.

Although the entire process, from the written and verbal questions when donating, to the thorough testing of the blood itself may seem bureaucratic and lengthy to some donors, it is necessary.

“We need to have restrictions on donors in order to maintain public trust because it took so long to build up that trust after the tainted blood scandal,” says Dominguez.

He’s referring to the Krever Commission of 1993 — a public inquiry into the use of contaminated blood in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Thousands of people in Canada were infected with HIV and hepatitis C during that time, from donated blood that had not been properly screened. The majority of blood came from the Canadian Red Cross Society.

At that time, “our system went through one of the worst crises” in Canada’s health care system, says Dominguez.

Canadian Blood Services was established in 1998 as an outcome of the Krever Commission. For the past 15 years they’ve been collecting and preparing blood on a daily basis, and helping save the lives of others.

The next chance for you to help save a life is Monday, Aug. 5 in Chilliwack. The mobile clinic will be at Broadway Church (46611 Maple Ave.) from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. There are still several spots open to donate that day as it is B.C. Day. You must call 1-888-2-DONATE to make an appointment.

Additionally, if you want your donation to count towards the In Memory of Penny Lett blood drive, sign up to be part of the Partners For Life ‘Penny’ team by going to www.blood.ca/partnersforlife. The Partner ID number for the Penny Team is INME013882.


Facts and tips on donating blood:• to make an appointment to donate blood, call 1-888-2-DONATE• you must be at least 17 years of age, and healthy, to donate• you must weight at least 110 lbs.• underage teens (17 and 18) do not need their parents’ permission to donate• special medical assessment conditions apply to those over the age of 70, and those 61 and older who are donating for the first time• one unit of whole blood (red cells, platelets, and plasma) is taken during a blood donation, and is equal to about 450ml• adults have about 10-12 units of blood in their body, that’s five to six litres• every minute, on average, a person in Canada needs blood• 50 percent of Canadians are eligible to donate blood; only four percent of those eligible actually donate• 52 per cent of Canadians say they, or a family member, have needed blood or blood products, or know someone who has• O+ is the most common blood type found in 39 per cent of the Canadian population. A+ is second at 36 per cent• before donating, people should drink plenty of water, and avoid coffee and tea — caffeine can shrink veins, therefore making it difficult and/or uncomfortable to donate blood• after donating, people should rest for about 6-8 hours and avoid strenuous activities• people should not donate during their lunch break, as there simply isn’t enough time• you must wait to donate if: you have been to the dentist recently; have a cold or flu; had a tattoo or body piercing within the past six months


For more, check out these links:Canadian Blood Services websiteBasic EligibilityCBS Donor Questionnaire


Related stories:Part 1 • June 11 – The time to donate blood is nowPart 2 • July 4 – Chilliwack blood donors needed to become Partners For Life


Related column:June 11 – Blood drive honours Penny Lett



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