Blood transfusions have been around for centuries, with the first blood transfusion carried out in 1665. This was not particularly successful as the donated blood came from an animal. Throughout the 19th century, transfusions were not quite as scientific as they are now and were considered risky. But when blood groups were discovered in the 20th century, transfusions became safer and widely used.
Blood transfusions rely on healthy people taking the trip to a local blood donor center and donating blood. Even with many advances in modern medicine, there still isn’t quite as a good a substitute as donated blood yet. Our blood service and many, many patients rely on the kindness of blood donors to keep them healthy or even save a life.
How a blood donation happens
In Australia, the Australian Red Cross oversees everything to do with blood, starting with the donation. Once you book an appointment, it’s important to drink some extra water before the procedure. You will go to the donor center where a staff member will ask you to fill in a questionnaire, have your height and weight checked and your haemoglobin (your blood level) will be checked.
Next comes the needle part – honestly, it’s not as bad as you think! I’ve donated blood several times and usually, my fear is worse than the needle itself. Once you’re plugged in to a special collection bag, you relax on a recliner chair while the blood is collected. After your collection, you’re rewarded with a snack and the knowledge that you have just helped to save up to three lives.
It takes around an hour from entering to leaving the building. After your donation, your advised to avoid strenuous exercise or standing up for too long. Although you can very easily donate blood and stay perfectly healthy, it still takes a little bit of time for your body to replace that donation. Before that happens, it’s best not to stress your body too much.
To make sure we keep our blood transfusions as safe as possible, the Red Cross has some rules as to who can and can’t donate. This is to protect the person getting the blood at the end of the line but also, the health of the person donating. You can check if you’re eligible by contacting the Red Cross.
Where does your blood go?
As a heart surgeon, I transfuse a number of my patients which can be life saving for them. Of all the blood donated, 18% goes to people having surgery, including open heart surgery. Most blood gets given to cancer or blood disease patients at 34% and 19% goes to people who have low blood counts (anaemia). 4% goes to new mothers and young children, including babies and 2% goes to people who have an accident or trauma.
Our donated blood can be divided into fractions, including red blood cells, that carry oxygen or platelets which are small cells that help our blood to clot. We can also give other fractions of blood like cryoprecipitate or fresh frozen plasma which also help blood clot. Donated blood can make many other types of blood products that are used for a wide range of medical conditions.
So many people still rely on blood transfusions and as you can see, some of the sickest people in our community stand to benefit from something that only takes an hour of your time. Blood is still so precious and can be so life-saving so if you are eligible, make sure you make some time to gift a little bit of blood and change someone else’s day.
For more information, or to arrange a donation, visit the Australian Red Cross at donateblood.com.au