The process of blood donation is a simple one. Start by finding one of their many donor centres or blood drives around Joburg. Before you go, make sure you have a full meal. Once you get there, you will be required to fill in some paperwork. SANBS requires you to give basic information such as age, gender, name and contact details. You will also be required to give some medical history such as diseases like diabetes and the medication you are on. A medical professional will then assess you. This person will ask about what medication you are on and why you are on them. They will also take your blood pressure by strapping a device to your upper arm, tightening the device and measuring how long it takes for your blood pressure to loosen the device. The nurse will also measure your iron levels. This is done with a small prick to the finger. Some of your blood is then dropped into a substance and if the blood sinks, you have normal to high levels of iron. If the blood floats your levels of iron may be to low to donate blood.
If your blood pressure and iron levels are in the correct range, you will be seated to donate blood. The seats are a cross between regular hospital beds and lazy boys with an arm rest on either the left or the right side. It is important to choose a seat based on which arm you want blood drawn from. Some people have one particular arm with a viable vein, for others any arm will be acceptable. The staff are extremely well trained and will be able to find which arm this is if you are unsure. They are able to find a viable vein quickly and without any discomfort. When you are ready to donate, a strap will be placed on your arm to ensure some blood pressure. Your skin will then be cleaned with antiseptic. Then a new, clean needle will be used to puncture your skin and vein. The blood will then collect in a blood bag and a few vials. You just need to sit there and relax until enough blood has been drawn, this will take about 10 minutes. The vials will be used for testing and the bag will be donated. The needle will be removed and the wound will be dressed.
Remember that you may feel dizzy, have bruising where the blood was taken or have nerve or tendon damage, which is highly uncommon. So it is important for you to apply some after care. The donor centre has comfortable seats for you to relax in. They also provide some cookies and juice. This is needed to bring up your blood sugar so that you do not feel dizzy. It is also necessary to increase your fluid intake for the rest of the day, don’t do any strenuous exercise or lifting and to avoid smoking. You can help replace your lost blood by eating food rich in iron such as meat, tofu, leafy greens, legumes, peanuts and whole wheat products. Food rich in vitamin C will aid your body in absorbing iron, these are tomatoes, bell peppers and citrus. Avoid eating dairy products, coffee and tea after your donation as these hinder iron absorption in your body.
What next ?
Your blood will be taken to a lab for testing. The blood needs to be free of diseases like HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis B and C. The blood is then separated into three components; plasma, platelets and red blood cells. Very little blood is used whole, as it was donated. If it is the first donation or if you haven’t donated in a while, the red blood cells won’t be used and the plasma will be kept until the next donation. All the components of the blood only get used once your blood has tested negative of diseases after three donations. The plasma is used to help people who are losing a lot of blood or who cannot clot blood themselves. Platelets are used to help blood clots and red blood cells are used to help people with anemia and blood loss.
Should you donate blood?
There are a few people that can’t donate blood, unfortunately. People under the age of 16, over the age of 65 and who weigh less than 50kg can’t donate blood. Nor should anyone who is at risk for sexually transmitted diseases. If you feel slightly sick with a cold or flu then then you need to wait until you’re better, at least seven days, before donating. You also have to wait four weeks before donating if you have been to a malaria area and three years if you have been treated for malaria. If you have gotten pierced or tattooed, you need to wait six months before donating, three to six months after giving birth and six months after major surgery. People with low iron levels need to wait until their iron levels are back to normal before donating.
If you don’t want to donate your blood, you can donate just one part of your blood; either plasma or platelets. A machine will separate the part of the blood you choose to donate from the rest of the blood and return the unused portion of the blood back to your body. SANBS also offers a autologous donation service, where you can have blood drawn and saved for you, for later. This is helpful for planned surgeries. If you would like to do more than just donate blood, you can register to become a bone marrow donor to potentially save the life of someone with a serious blood disease. Or you can opt to become an organ donor so that in the event of your death, any viable organs can be donated to help save someone else.
Find more information about donating blood at the South African National Blood Service (SANBS).
For more information about bone marrow and becoming a donor, contact The Sunflower Fund.
Contact the Organ Donor Foundation to find out more about being an organ donor.