These days, I’m a regular blood donor, but that wasn’t always the case.
Previously, I thought that blood donation was all about giving, well… blood ! You know, the red stuff that we bleed. I didn’t really appreciate that there are TWO ways in which we can give blood, namely:
1. Red blood cells
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin — a red, iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs so that it can be exhaled.
Platelets are tiny blood cells that help your body form clots to stop bleeding. If one of your blood vessels gets damaged, it sends out signals that are picked up by platelets. The platelets then rush to the site of damage and form a plug, or clot, to repair the damage.
The “blood factory” in your body is your bone marrow & if someone is suffering from blood cancer, their bone marrow ceases to produce the right cells in the correct way. Hence the need for blood and platelet transfusions for blood cancer patients – to supplement the vital cells that aren’t being produced by the sick patient.
And these transfusions are only possible because of the red blood and platelet donations by less than 4% of the UK population.
Donations are always needed: red blood cells might last for up to 5 weeks post donation, however platelets only have a seven day shelf life.
Red cell donations can be made every three months, however platelet donations are possible every two weeks.
After becoming a red blood cell donor, I applied to become a platelet donor, which is more complicated. Simplistically, you need a good vein structure and a sufficiently high platelet count. Unfortunately, whilst my veins are apparently good enough, my platelet count isn’t high enough, so I am unable to give platelets and have to settle for being a red blood cell donor instead.
Most people know hospitals need us to donate blood, but few realise the importance of donating platelets.
There are just 14,000 platelet donors compared to 1.4 million blood donors. This underscores how so many of us are reliant upon so few.
Together, saving lives
Previous Team Margot blog posts about blood donation: