Inspiration

The Red Cross Winter Blood Drive – A Behind the Scenes Tour

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Brought to you by Red Cross and Nuffnang

Giving blood was always one of those things that I knew I should do but “was just too busy”. After a failed attempt to donate blood years ago (I was an unhealthy vegetarian at the time and my iron and hemoglobin levels were too low) plus a vague fear of needles, I just put the idea on the back burner. Something I am not proud of.

When I was invited by the Red Cross for a tour of their state-of-the-art facilities I jumped at the chance. We all know the process of giving blood, but where does it go? What do they do with it?

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Australian Red Cross blood processing centre foyer

After arriving at the blood processing centre and admiring the amazing spiral staircase, I was led by my guide into the laboratory section where gown-clad specialists were buzzing about. Machines were being read, test tubes checked and notes consulted as I witnessed floor after floor of all the different processes that can be done to and with our blood!

inside-lab

Blood group testing
Blood group testing

Now I’m sure quite a few of my readers can be a bit squeamish when it comes to blood, so I have purposely not included all my blood-dominated photos. I will share the ones that give you a little insight into the unique state of our blood and the processes that are done to it.

blood-bags

Bags filled with blood were everywhere, deep red and familiar looking. But I soon noticed bags of a yellow liquid around the lab too. What on earth were these? Was it waste? My guide explained our blood is made up of red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Each component has a specific use, and they need to separate these parts out.

First they take a blood filled bag.

blood-bag-hands

Then the bag of blood is placed in a tub with extra tubes and bags connected, before being placed in a contraption best described as a “washing machine”. This machine spins and spins at astronomical rates and the centripetal force separates the blood into its components.

blood-washing-machine

And here’s some we prepared earlier… fresh plasma! Plasma contains vital proteins, mineral salts, sugars, fats, hormones and vitamins. During this process, platelets are also separated which contain vital clotting proteins to stop or prevent bleeding.

frozen-plasma

In addition to the blood, plasma and platelets, the processing centre was also filled with various types of medications created from the donated blood, experiments were being performed and studies were being done. The level of work these people were doing and the impact it had on our community was such a humbling experience (I spend my days pecking at the keyboard and baking cakes!)

Now to the serious part…

I have to admit within 5 minutes of finishing the tour I was furious. Furious with myself. And guilt ridden. Sure I lead a busy life, but too busy to save other lives? Absolutely not. I was going to book myself in for my first donation.

The hard truth is that 1 in 3 Australians will need donated blood sometime in their life. Whether it is needed as a result of a car crash, cancer, treatment for unborn babies, women in childbirth or people undergoing emergency surgery there is always a constant and serious need for blood.

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Winter is a particularly tough time for the blood drive, as winter means numerous head colds and flus. Unfortunately if you’re sick, you can’t give blood, and this can have a devastating effect on their blood supplies. There has been a low number of donor bookings over these cold months and it’s vital we all do our bit if we can.

What are the benefits of donating?

By giving the gift of your blood, you help save people’s lives, or greatly improve the quality of their well being. And if you need any more encouragement, the blood donation centres are well known for their free snacks! Oh the stories I’ve heard of the free milkshakes, cookies and sandwiches.

On of my best friends, Casey, has been giving blood for as long as I can remember. I shot across a few questions to her which she more than willingly answered to help anyone who may be on the fence about donating!

Casey, what prompted you to give blood?
For me, it was the experience of sick loved ones. My brother was very sick when I was young and although I didn’t understand at the time it prompted my interest as an adult to find out how I could help medically, without actually being a medical professional. I started donating blood and I have become a registered organ donor.

How often do you donate?
I try to donate every three months which is the requirement set by the Australian Red Cross.

Why should others give blood?
I guess I would ask why wouldn’t others donate? The entire process takes less than an hour and in that time you get to save lives by sitting in a chair, drinking a milkshake. The idea that it’s scary or gross is not true at all, the staff at the Red Cross Centres are so kind and warm, you get a mini health check and the actual donation is over in minutes. Plus, aside from saving lives and feeling great about it, they spoil you with snacks!

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So how can you help?

If you’re nervous, book in together with a friend. I have booked in my appointment with my best friend who is a regular blood donor and we’re making a day of it. We’re starting with a big hearty breakfast, then doing our donating, eating delicious snacks at the centre and then having some quiet time taking in a movie at the cinema afterwards. The guys at the Red Cross reminded it it’s important you have a big meal before you donate, and take the time to relax afterwards, as you can be a bit tired.

What if you can’t donate?

If you lived in the UK during mad cow disease, have gotten a tattoo recently or for some other reason can’t give blood, you can still help. Volunteers are always required at the donation centres (how are your milkshake making skills?) or you could even provide a monetary donation to the Red Cross.

And remember, one in three of us will need donated blood in our lifetime; that could be our family, friends or loved ones. The only way to ensure that it will be there when we need it is to donate whenever we can.

They are urging people who are aged between 16 and 70, feel fit and healthy, and who want to help save lives, to make an appointment to give blood as soon as possible. Bookings are essential, so give them a call on 13 14 95 or visit donateblood.com.au. Please join me!!

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6 Comments

  • Reply Katalina@ Peas and Peonies July 14, 2015 at 2:11 am

    we have donation centers at work, but unfortunately they are a little “picky” about the blood they receive, so for example me, I am young, healthy, but since I was born in Moldova and spent 20 years ago, it doesn’t matter that I am an US Citizen and healthy individual, they wont accept my blood, so sometimes you want to help, but you cant. They definitely have to revise their policies.

    • Reply Swah July 14, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      That’s a shame you can’t donate Katalina, but you have to remember they have these strict rules in place for a reason. I have a friend who lived in England for a short time and because of that can never give blood (due to mad cow disease). Perhaps your could volunteer your time instead, and help out at the centre? x

    • Reply Pug @ Pug's Modern Life July 19, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      I’d have to agree with Katalina there– while many of their donation policies are in place for valid disease transmission prevention reasons, some are rooted in 1980s homophobia, ‘gay panic’, transphobia and misinformation. There is no reason a perfectly healthy gay man who practises safe sex should be prevented from donating blood, particularly when the listed ‘prohibited sex practises’ applicable to men who have sex with men are not also applied to women who have sex with men. It’s archaic. If the Red Cross really want to increase donation levels they need to stop practising outdated and discriminatory exclusion processes towards donors.

      That said, to those who are eligible to donate– do it. It’s not an ordeal. I did it once as a teen (before my fibromyalgia diagnosis) and they really do everything they can to make you comfortable. Like Swah says, there are milkshakes and snacks on offer, the donation chairs are pretty comfy, and the nurses are so expert with the needles you’ll barely even feel it going in! The hour you spend sitting down, reading a book and snacking can save lives. (Do drink a ton of water the day before and on the day though, it’ll make things go a lot quicker!)

      • Reply Swah August 3, 2015 at 1:24 pm

        I completely agree – the old fashioned rules are indeed really frustrating and I hope that the Red Cross is looking into relaxing some of these policies in the near future.

        And thank you for the tip on drinking loads of water, I’d hate to make the process any more difficult than necessary. Eek! x

  • Reply Sonya July 14, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Oh wow what an informative awesome article. I’ve never given blood and yes have had the attacks of the guilt’s too. My sister always gives blood and has done for many years. You’ve made me rethink my reasons for not donating, (always thought it would make me feel totally zapped) but if you are prepared and eat well and rest it’s all possible. Thanks so much.

    • Reply Swah August 3, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      I am so pleased to have motivated you Sonya! I agree that the thought of feeling zapped afterwards isn’t overly appealing, but if you plan a nice relaxing day afterwards it will make it all worthwhile :)

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