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Life-saving blood donations needed even more in winter

January 09, 2018 | UCI Health
woman donating blood

Blood donations are needed year round to save lives. But donations are vitally important on the heels of the winter holiday season, when blood supplies traditionally drop, especially at Level 1 trauma centers like UC Irvine Medical Center.

“We are encouraging healthy people of all blood types who are age 17 and over to donate,” says Dr. Minh-Ha Tran, director of transfusion medicine services at UCI Health, which has its own blood donation centers and blood bank.

Who needs blood?

The gift of blood may save the life of an accident victim, a cancer patient, a hemophiliac, a patient undergoing surgery, a premature baby or even a friend or loved one. And because fewer people donate during the holidays, the need for donations is typically greater in January.

It can be especially acute at UC Irvine Medical Center, which is Orange County’s only Level 1 trauma center. “We often have an extra need for type O whole blood, which can be used for any patient,” says Tran, whose donation centers are celebrating National Blood Donor Month.

blood types infographic

It’s simple and safe to give blood

Giving blood is safe and easy, and it can be done at UCI Health centers on the university campus in Irvine and at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.

Learn more about our blood donation centers ›

Here's the process:

Health questionnaire

Once you arrive at one of our centers, you’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire about your health history, including medications and any exposure you may have had to blood-borne pathogens. This is because some conditions or medications may not be compatible for blood donation. You’ll also receive a mini-check-up.

Blood donation

Next, you’ll be seated in a lounge-type chair to donate your blood. You’ll feel a pinch in the crook of your arm as a technician inserts a needle in a vein. About a pint of your blood will flow into a collection bag for your whole-blood donation. It takes less than 15 minutes to donate whole blood.

Our phlebotomists, who draw the blood, use a sterile collection kit, including non-reusable needles, for each donor.

For donors of platelets — the tiny cells in the blood that form clots and stop bleeding — involves a different process requiring two needles. This takes a longer — between 90 and 110 minutes. This is because platelets are separated from your blood by a machine that returns the red and white cells, along with most of the plasma, back to you.

Staff monitoring

Our medical staff monitors all of our donors to ensure an immediate response in the very rare case of an adverse reaction, such as swooning.

Rest, then return to activities

Once you’re finished, we give you a snack before you return to your normal activities.

How will I feel after donating blood?

The vast majority of donors feel no different after giving blood, Tran says. But it’s best to avoid vigorous exercise for at least a few hours afterward. Over the next several days, remember to drink fluids, eat well and get plenty of rest.

It takes a few weeks for your body to replace all your blood cells and a little longer to restore iron levels. That’s why we require whole blood donors to wait at least 56 days before donating again. Platelet donors are allowed to donate every two weeks.

What happens to the blood I donate?

All blood donations are tested to ensure that recipients receive the safest possible blood transfusions. Platelets undergo an additional process of inoculation that takes 24 hours.

Your red blood cells, which are stored in an additive solution, have a shelf life of 42 days, but most blood donations are used well before that time.

Platelets in particular are greatly needed because they are only good for five days, which includes the additional day of testing time.

“That’s why we have a continuing need for blood donations,” Tran says.

Make an appointment

To make an appointment at our blood donation center in Orange, contact us at 714-456-LIFE (714-456-5433), donateblood@uci.edu or request one online ›

For appointments at our center in Irvine, contact us at 949-824-2662, ibleedblue@uci.edu or request one online ›

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