How a hospital’s blood bank keeps its precious liquid assets in circulation

Nurse Desiree Cunningham prepares physical therapist Kristen Casperson at a January 13 blood drive in the Goldblatt Lobby of the University of Chicago Medicine. All units collected on-site go to patients.

Nurse Desiree Cunningham prepares physical therapist Kristen Casperson at a January 13 blood drive in the Goldblatt Lobby of the University of Chicago Medicine. All units collected on-site go to patients.

A single unit of blood goes a long way. One pint of “red gold” can save up to three lives.

It’s a message the Blood Bank staff at the University of Chicago Medicine takes to heart year-round, especially this month.

“January is National Blood Donor Month, and it only takes 30 minutes to help save a life,” said Chief Technologist Pamela Madden.

The seven-member Blood Donation Services team stepped up its outreach and awareness efforts around the Medical Center last fall. The group began hosting two monthly blood drives at the University of Chicago and on the medical campus. The first four on-site drives yielded 136 units of blood from faculty, staff and students. The goal is 15 events for this fiscal year.

Blood is a precious commodity. The Medical Center collects about 5 percent of what it needs. Units acquired from external suppliers come with a steep cost.

If you’re on campus soon, you can give blood too:

  • Our Blood Donation Center in the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am to 5:00 pm.
  • All blood collected goes to our patients. The Blood Bank welcomes both walk-ins and appointments in the DCAM outpatient clinic.

While drives are critical to increasing Blood Services’ visibility and mission, the Blood Bank – relocated to the outpatient clinics, not far from the Food Court — has its share of dedicated patrons.

“We have repeat donors who come and donate for no particular reason other than to help our patients,” said Angela Treml, MD, Assistant Professor of Pathology.

Organizers of the University’s annual Scavenger Hunt – who provide points to student-donors – are big boosters. Every May, “we see a couple hundred college students come through our doors,” Treml said.

Social Worker Barbara Passman is all smiles and ready to donate after passing the “finger prick test,” which measures the oxygen-carrying component (hemoglobin level) of blood.

Social Worker Barbara Passman is all smiles and ready to donate after passing the “finger prick test,” which measures the oxygen-carrying component (hemoglobin level) of blood.

Each pint is earmarked for the UChicago Medicine’s Blood Bank inventory. Stored units enable surgeries to proceed without the fear of a blood shortage. The drives supplement stocks during seasonally low donation times such as holidays.

At the Medical Center, whole blood donations are divided into two products: red blood cells and fresh frozen plasma. The red blood cells are generally used for surgeries, transfusions and exchanges. The plasma is deployed for the same as well as transplants and neurological disorders. An automated platelet donation can yield a unit of plasma.

All in-house collected blood products are processed into blood components in the Blood Bank. The plasma is frozen at -1 F for later transfusion use. The remaining red blood cells are fed a nutrient solution that gives them a shelf life of 42 days. These cells are quarantined for 72 hours at 4 F while screened for diseases.

Potential blood donors should eat a light meal in advance and be hydrated. Technicians are skilled in talking first-time or queasy donors through the process. Staff nurses and physicians are available if needed.

“Each person is different. Explaining what actually goes on helps. So does joking,” said nurse Ayana Isham.

Donors can give blood every 56 days and platelets every seven days, up to 24 times per year. Whole-blood donation takes 30 minutes. Platelet donation takes between 90 minutes to two hours.

And the needle doesn’t hurt, says Isham, trust her. “There’s just a little pinch,” she said.

FACTS

  • Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
  • More than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day.
  • A total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
  • The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately 3 pints.
  • The blood type most often requested by hospitals is Type O.
  • The blood used in an emergency is already on the shelves before the event occurs.
  • Sickle cell disease affects more than 70,000 people in the U.S. About 1,000 babies are born with the disease each year. Sickle cell patients can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives.
  • More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

Source: The American Red Cross

About Megan Doherty (3 Articles)
Megan Doherty is a staff writer for the University of Chicago Medicine
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