Born prematurely at only 26 weeks, tiny Parker Henry came into this world as a 2-pound, 3-ounce Valentine’s Day gift in 2015. His early arrival created much concern for his parents, Krislyn and Michael Henry of Roanoke, and for the medical team at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
The Henrys knew the days and weeks ahead would be difficult for their first child.
As with most premature infants, Parker’s organs and body systems were unable to function on their own, still needing almost three more months to properly develop. Lifesaving technology helped keep his organs progressing.
His weak body worked hard each day to provide enough oxygen to his tissues. “Doctors came and asked us if we were OK with a blood transfusion," remembers Henry. "‘A transfusion is really the best thing for him,’ they said. From that point, there was really no second guessing.”
The transfusion immediately helped restore color to the infant, and physicians in the neonatal intensive care unit saw significant improvements.
“Without the transfusion, things could have been very bad; his body would have used up everything he had,” says Henry. Parker received two transfusions during his 82-day stay in the NICU.
Kim Ramsey, neonatal clinical nurse specialist in Carilion’s NICU, explains, “Infants do not begin to make their own red blood cells for several weeks after birth, and because premature infants are often born before the third trimester of gestation [like Parker], they do not receive the iron transported from the mother, which occurs late in the pregnancy.”
Of course Parker is only one example of countless recipients who need lifesaving transfusions. Bryan Collier, DO, section chief and medical director of Carilion Clinic Trauma Services, explains, “Transfusions are not everyday events, but at least one patient each day is being evaluated. We are always evaluating the need, and I would estimate that more than 500 patients a year receive transfusions here.”
According to Dr. Collier, a patient needing a blood transfusion usually falls into one of three categories: a trauma patient who is likely to bleed to death, a patient requiring multiple surgeries (who might also be a trauma patient) or a patient who has thin blood (often from medication).
“A trauma patient, a victim of a car accident for example, might require 10 to 20 units of blood. The reserve could be gone in one incident,” explains Dr. Collier.
Typically a donor provides one unit of whole blood (approximately 1 pint) in a single donation. Therefore, several donors are required to meet the needs of one trauma patient.
“Our population majority is growing older and sicker. The use of blood thinners is increasing; therefore, bleeding trouble is also increasing. Donors are always needed,” says Dr. Collier. “Donated blood is rarely wasted. Blood banks and hospitals work diligently to use resources efficiently.”
A blood bank or blood center is a facility, sometimes located within a hospital, where blood is processed. The donor’s blood type is determined (O positive, for example) and then the donated blood is separated into components, stored and prepared for transport to hospitals and clinics to be used for patient transfusions. Blood collection can take place at permanent donation centers or mobile blood drives.
According to the American Society of Hematology, approximately one-third of the American population is eligible to donate blood, but only 10 percent donates. With nearly 5 million people receiving blood transfusions every year, donors are in constant demand.
Interestingly, Krislyn Henry has been a regular blood donor for years. She has worked for companies that held blood drives, and as a child, she accompanied her father when he donated blood.
“My dad always donated blood, and I looked up to him. It is just what we did. I remember observing him and the whole process. The first time I gave blood was in high school,” remembers Henry.
“It never really dawned on me that all those years that I was donating blood, I could be saving the lives of babies. The need does not discriminate,” says Krislyn Henry.
According to Dr. Chelsea Sheppard, medical director of Virginia Blood Services for the University of Virginia Health System, blood banks consider two things when seeking a blood donor: whether the person healthy enough to donate and whether his or her blood is safe enough to be donated. The American Association of Blood Banks Donor History Task Force developed a uniform donor history questionnaire — approved by the FDA for use and required for licensed facilities — that is given to donor prospects early in the screening process.
Once the initial screening takes place and the donor's eligibility is confirmed, the process of whole blood donation can be completed in about 30 minutes.
1. Donors schedule an appointment or find a blood drive at http://www.vablood.org.
2. They then undergo a mini-physical that includes checking temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin levels.
3. Next donors recline for eight to 10 minutes (longer for specific donations) with trained staff from the organization drawing blood intravenously.
4. Finally donors enjoy light refreshments for 10 to 15 minutes in a reception area to be sure your body has no adverse reaction to the blood loss.
Once a donor’s blood is collected, it undergoes a thorough screening process and is tested for numerous viruses and diseases until determined safe. It is important to understand that donating blood should never be used as a way to test for viruses. Local health departments offer testing, as do primary care physicians. Many towns also offer free testing clinics for those without insurance.
One donation can help support up to three patients’ lives according to Virginia Blood Services.
“We have no artificial substitute, so we require blood donors in order to procure this valuable resource for people in need,” explains Chelsea Sheppard, MD.
Parker Henry is now a healthy and vibrant child approaching his first birthday. His rapid turnaround resulted primarily from two transfusions along with the excellent care he received. Without the generous contributions of anonymous blood donors, blood products and services provided by VBS and the medical team, Parker wouldn’t have his optimistic prognosis.
To learn more about becoming a lifesaving hero by donating blood, visit www.vablood.org or call 800.989.4438.
Chelsea Sheppard, MD of Virginia Blood Services provides answers to some commonly asked questions.
Q: What blood type is in the greatest need or used most often?
A: All blood types are always needed. The need for blood remains constant. With our mission to collect responsibly and collect to the need of our patients, different blood types are encouraged to donate for these varying needs. O-negative blood type is the universal blood type, meaning anyone can receive this blood type. Only 7 percent of the population is O-negative, making this a rare and desirable blood type.
Whole Blood: contains red cells, white cells, and platelets suspended in plasma.
Platelets: small colorless cell fragments in blood with the main function of aiding clotting to stop or prevent bleeding.
Plasma: the clear liquid portion of blood containing water, salts, enzymes, antibodies and other proteins.
Double red cell donation is similar to whole blood donation, except a special machine is used to allow you to safely donate two units of red blood cells during on donation while returning your plasma and platelets to you.
Below are the most needed blood types and components:
- A-positive – Platelet donation
- A-negative – Whole blood donation or double red cell donation
- B-positive – Platelet donation
- B-negative – Whole blood donation or double red cell donation
- O-positive and -negative – Whole blood donation or double red cell donation
- AB-positive and -negative – Plasma donation
Q: How often do you face blood shortages?
A: Traditionally, holidays and summer months are great times of need. There is increased demand and less supply, given a decrease in donations being made due to travel and other holiday-related activity.
Q: What steps should a person take when considering a blood donation?
A: Donors must be at least 16 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds. (Written consent is required for 16-year-old donors.) Our donor history form and mini-physical quickly tell donors if there is any reason why they should not give blood. If you question your ability to donate, you should sign up and talk to a blood service representative. It is important to hydrate and eat before donating. Do not donate on an empty stomach and be in good health.
Q: What complications are most commonly experienced during a typical blood donation?
A: Occasionally, donors may feel light-headed after a donation. Our staff is fully experienced and equipped to help with any reaction that may occur.
Q: If you could put out a plea to the public about donating blood, what would you say?
A: Patients rely on this generous gift every day. The act of blood donation extends beyond the patient; a donation impacts the patient's extended network — a mother, a father, a brother, a sister and other friends and family. Donating blood can help prevent a loss and gives patients hope, strength and courage.
Bryan Collier, DO, with Carilion Clinic Trauma Services
Kim Ramsey,RN with Carilion Clinic NICU