Thousands of patients would die daily if insufficient quality blood were in stock.

In the pre-hospital setting, women who haemorrhage due to pregnancy complications and other gynaecological conditions need a blood transfusion, as do accident trauma patients in some cases. When you donate blood, you give patients something priceless. A unit of blood can save up to three lives as blood is separated into red blood cells, plasma and platelets.

Benefits of blood donation

Only 1% of South Africans are registered as blood donors, according to the South African National Blood Service (SANBS). A unit of blood (200-250ml) lasts only about 42 days, which means SANBS constantly needs blood donations.

Blood donation is also good for you. In fact, according to a study done by Columbia University in the US, donating blood can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack. Other benefits include lowered risk of cancer, improved mental health, maintenance of liver health and weight loss.

Likewise, donating plasma is beneficial to the donor. The process of removing the plasma also cleans the blood, resulting in lowered cholesterol, and in turn a lower risk of cardiac arrest and stroke.

The process of donating blood, plasma and platelets

Blood donation can take place at any blood donation centre countrywide. The process is much like drawing blood for a blood test.

Plasma donation is a bit more complicated though, and not every blood donation centre has a machine for this procedure. The process takes about 90 minutes and involves mechanically separating the plasma from the red blood cells and platelets, which are then returned to your system.

Platelet donation is similar to plasma donation; blood platelets are syphoned away, and the red blood cells and plasma are returned to the donor’s system.

How are plasma and platelet donations used?

Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen through the body. They are used to treat patients with anaemia or blood loss due to trauma or surgery. Platelets are important to promote blood clotting and prevent patients from bleeding out. Plasma contains proteins and clotting factors used to treat patients with massive bleeding or clotting factor deficiencies.

The life-giving liquid

Tao Carstens, ER24 Operational Branch manager for Southern Cape, says she’s helped save countless lives thanks to blood donations. Although regular ambulances aren’t able to carry blood due to refrigeration requirements, paramedics will stabilise the patient and notify the receiving hospital that donor blood is required.

However, ER24 has two ICU ambulances in the country that have the equipment to store donor blood safely – one in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg. ICU patients are then able to receive blood while being transferred to hospital. “It’s amazing to see how a patient goes from being pale to very pink within minutes of receiving this life-saving donation,” Carstens says.