Did you know that the Father of Modern Blood Banking is Black? The first successful human to human blood transfusion took place in 1818 by a British obstetrician James Blundell on a patient suffering from postpartum haemorrhage. At the time, transfusion reactions were high because it wasn’t until the 1900s that blood groups and the Rhesus antigen were discovered. Charles Richard Drew, born in 1904, was an African-American surgeon and medical researcher. He improved the techniques of blood storage which enabled the development of large-scale blood banks in World War II, saving the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers.
What’s in this article?
- Why Should You Donate Blood?
- Blood Donation Benefits
- Blood Donation Disqualifications
- How To Prepare for Blood Donation
- What To Expect When Donating Blood
- What To Do After Donating Blood
- Collection Centres in Jamaica
- Mission 27
Why Should You Donate Blood?
A single unit of donated blood has the ability to save up to three lives! Blood is separated into its components so that patients only get the component they need, namely: red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Anyone may require blood in their lifetime for a variety of reasons– to replace blood lost after a motor vehicle accident, stab wound, postpartum haemorrhage and during or after surgery if blood loss was great. Persons with chronic illnesses such as chronic kidney disease, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, haemophilia, aplastic anaemia and even while receiving chemotherapy for any kind of cancer may find themselves in need of blood. According to PAHO, Jamaica requires an average of 45,000 units of blood annually yet only an average of 25,000 units are collected.
What do you think happens to those thousands of persons who don’t get a transfusion? They either languish on a hospital bed for days to weeks, or they die. That’s the grim reality. This means that if you fall acutely ill in Jamaica and require blood, you may die. Why is this so? Many Jamaicans have trypanophobia (an irrational fear of needles) and believe that this absolves them of all social responsibility. Also, our authorities do very little to educate the public on the importance of volunteer blood donation. Instead, most persons only donate when their relatives and friends circulate flyers on social media pleading for blood donations for their loved ones.
Blood Donation Benefits
- There’s the obvious perk of saving lives. A single blood donation can save the lives of up to three persons.
- You get a free health screen. You’ll find out your blood group, haemoglobin level, pulse rate and blood pressure for free. You may even get your blood sugar and weight checked. These are important indicators of health.
- You get a free STI Check. After your unit of blood is collected, the nurse or phlebotomist will collect a few blood tubes. These are sent to the laboratory to check for blood-borne diseases, many of which are obtained sexually. These include syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B and C and HTLV I/II. If these diseases are found in your blood, the unit gets discarded and the Blood Bank will call you to notify you of the result.
- You can improve your own health! Regular blood donation has been linked to lower blood pressure readings and can prevent heart attack and stroke in patients with a high haematocrit level (blood being too thick).
- You get free drinks! You have to hydrate well after donating blood so to set the ball rolling, you’ll receive juice and even a light snack afterwards. The refreshments will vary considerably depending on the budget but I’ve received things like Malta, Tropical Rhythms juice, glucose water and cake after donating blood. There are also places such as Chilitos Jamexican Restaurant in Kingston which gives a 30% discount to persons with an up-to-date volunteer blood donor card.
Blood Donation Disqualifications
Temporary reasons why a person may get disqualified from donating blood are:
- Acute fever, flu or other illness; currently taking antibiotics
- Recent alcohol intake (within a few hours)
- Piercing or tattoo within the last 12 months
- Recent surgery
- Recent treatment for a STD such as syphilis or gonorrhea
- Recent vaccines such as Covid-19, varicella, MMR, live shingles, yellow fever and polio. The deferral period ranges from 2 to 4 weeks. Smallpox vaccine confers a 8-week deferral.
- Uncontrolled hypertension (greater than 180/100 mmHg) and diabetes. Once your hypertension and diabetes are controlled with medications, you can safely donate.
- Currently on menses. While you can safely donate blood on your period once you aren’t bleeding heavily, your haemoglobin is above 11 g/dL and you aren’t in any discomfort or pain, it’s probably safer to just wait until your period ends.
- Low haemoglobin level, please see your doctor to find out why you are anaemic. Anaemia is not a diagnosis, and it isn’t always due to iron deficiency.
- Being under 110 lbs.
- Having a blood pressure under 90/50 mmHg.
- Having a pulse over 100 or under 50.
- Recent travel from a malaria-endemic region.
- Under the age of 17 years
Permanent reasons for disqualification include:
- Having an infectious disease such as HIV, tuberculosis or hepatitis B.
- Illnesses such as sickle cell, haemophilia, active cancer and haemochromatosis.
- Taking certain medications such as blood thinners (excluding aspirin). Aspirin must be stopped three days before a platelet donation, however.
- Being older than age 60 (Jamaica requirement).
Things which DO NOT affect your ability to donate are taking oral contraceptive pills and being overweight or obese.
How To Prepare for Blood Donation
Once you don’t have any obvious reason for disqualification as mentioned in the last section, ensure you get a good night’s rest prior. Eat a heavy balanced meal 1-3 hours before donating and drink at least 3 glasses of water 3 hours before donating. Wear loose fitting comfortable clothing. Take your medications like usual, and carry them with you so that the staff can review what you’re taking to determine if you’re eligible for donation.
What To Expect When Donating Blood
You’ll get asked a list of screening questions, followed by having your haemoglobin, blood type, pulse and blood pressure checked. Your blood sugar and weight may also get checked. Once you’re deemed eligible, you’ll be taken to the blood donation chair. Get comfortable then give your non-dominant arm to the phlebotomist. He or she will then tie a tourniquet (tight band) across the arm to make the vein more visible. They’ll clean your skin with alcohol and then you’ll be stuck with the needle. The needle is a bit large and can be painful, but the pain is very short-lived. Look away if you need to. That helps.
The bloodletting process is about 6-15 minutes long depending on how fast your blood flows. However, reserve 45 minutes to one hour for the entire process from screening to walking out the door. You’ll be asked to squeeze a stress ball during the process to help improve the blood flow. Whole blood donation (the only kind done in Jamaica) takes one pint of blood, while your body contains a total of ten pints. So no, it’s not that much blood at all and your body makes it back within a few weeks. Therefore, you are eligible to donate blood every three months.
What To Do After Donating Blood
After donating most persons will not feel different and are able to perform their usual duties. Your body will naturally replace the blood that you donated. However, still take it easy and drink lots of water. Avoid strenuous activities for the rest of the day. Bask in the feeling of being a good human being! Your blood donation will be used to save a life in as little as one week away, and who knows? The life you save may just be your own. Keep your volunteer donor card in your purse or wallet. If you have pain at the venipuncture site, it’ll resolve by a day or two.
Collection Centres in Jamaica
There are ten blood collection centres in Jamaica, distributed across the island for your convenience.
- Cornwall Regional Hospital. Mon-Fri: 8:00am-4:00pm
- University Hospital of the West Indies. Mon – Fri: 8:00am – 2:30pm
- Falmouth Hospital. Friday: 10:00am-2:30pm
- National Chest Hospital. Saturdays ONLY: 9:00am-3:00pm
- Mandeville Regional Hospital. Mon-Thurs: 8:00am-8:00pm, Fri: 8:00am-2:00pm
- May Pen Hospital. Mon-Fri: 8:00am-3:00pm
- National Blood Transfusion Service (Blood Bank) on Slipe Road. Mon-Thurs: 8:00am-4:00pm, Fri: 8:00am-3:00pm
- Port Antonio Hospital. Mon-Fri: 8:00am-4:00pm, Sat: 9:00am-3:00pm
- Savanna-la-Mar Hospital. Mon-Fri: 8:30am-3:00pm
- St. Ann’s Bay Hospital. Mon-Fri: 8:00am-2:00pm
If you’ve never donated blood before, I hope you’re now equipped and motivated to do so. Today is my birthday and this month I’d like to create 27 new volunteer donors. I’m not hosting a formal drive but am asking for anyone reading this to donate at their nearest centre during September. If you donate, send me a photo by email or DM so I know that you donated. The life you save could become your own.
Sources: National Blood Transfusion Service (Jamaica), American Red Cross, PAHO
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‘Til next time.