Where Your Blood Goes After You Donate

In the Chicago Red Cross office, there is a poster stretching down the length of a wall. On the right side of the poster, printed in white text on a red background, a paragraph tells the story of Amy. At the age of ten, Amy was told that she had leukemia. As she battled this, she went to chemotherapy every six weeks. Also during this time, Amy received over 100 pints of blood from donors to help as she fought the disease.

Heidi Reed sits in a chair after her donation

When people donate blood to the Red Cross, it can be easy to forget the impact that their blood is having. Volunteers give their blood at a blood drive, and once the drive ends, the Red Cross packs up and leaves. The donors walk away and continue on with their normal day, and they do not get to see where their blood has gone or, more importantly, to whom. Part of the nobility of blood donation is that those giving blood, without knowing where their blood will go or whom it will help, give anyways.

At the Chicago Red Cross building, I learned about the great lengths the Red Cross takes to maintain the integrity of their blood services branch.

For instance, after donation, donated blood is given a unique identification number, and samples of the blood are sent to a national testing center. There, the Red Cross catalogs the blood type of the donation and ensures that it is pure of disease. While the sample is being tested, the donation is spun in a centrifuge and divided into three parts: The red cells, the platelets, and the plasma. Each of these three can be donated to different people for different situations. In this way, one blood donation can save the lives of three people. Once the testing center confirms that the donation is free of disease, it is delivered to a hospital, where it is given to people who need it.

Nicole Thompson finishes her donation

Every two seconds, someone in America needs blood. This could be a mother experiencing complications in childbirth, a car accident victim, or someone, like Amy, who require regular blood transfusions to battle cancer. Donations save these people. Donations saved Amy.

After many rounds of chemotherapy and many transfusions, Amy defeated cancer. She has been cancer-free for almost twenty years now, is married, and has a son. “I hope people realize that blood and platelet donations cannot only help a patient in need, but can have an impact on future generations,” she once said. “My family and I are living proof of that.”

It is unlikely that any of the people who donated to Amy know of the effect that they have had. And Amy is not alone. Everyday, there are people who require blood to survive, people who have been diagnosed with cancer, or undergo a medical emergency. It is donations from normal people with normal lives, who may never meet the people they donate to, that save lives.

To all of our blood donors, thank you.

Written by Gordon White, American Red Cross Communications Intern

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