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June 1, 2015 | by  | in Being Well |
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Donating Blood

I love arriving at work, walking down the stairs of the Student Union Building, and seeing a wee queue of people waiting to donate blood. This selfless act takes only a few minutes, but can save up to three lives.

New Zealand needs 3,000 donations each week to meet the needs of the health service—that’s over 150,000 a year. However, less than four per cent of eligible New Zealanders currently donate, often leaving a huge shortfall in supply. Your donation can make a huge difference, so put it on your “to do” list, and give something really tangible back to your community.


Whole blood is made up of 4 parts:

  • Red cells—contain haemoglobin and transport oxygen around the body.
  • White cells—prevent and fight infection.
  • Platelets—help the blood to clot.
  • Plasma—the liquid part of our blood; it provides volume and helps to suspend the other cells.

Red cells, plasma and platelets can be used on their own, or can be transfused as “whole blood”. White cells cannot be used due to their very short life span. Red blood cells last 35 days after donation, and platelets only five days.

Blood groups

Proteins on the surface of our red cells differ between people, and the combination of these proteins give us our blood group. There are 2 classifications:

  1. ABO—a person can be O, A, B or AB
  2. Rhesus system—a person can be rhesus positive or negative.

The commonest groups in NZ are O+ and A+.

It is essential that the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) test your blood group each time you donate and again at the hospital blood bank so that donor-recipient matching can occur. A mismatch can result in life-threatening immune reactions in the recipient.

People who have O negative blood are known as “universal donors” as their blood is suitable to be given to anyone in an emergency (regardless of their blood type).

People who have AB+ blood are known as “universal recipients” as they can receive any of the blood types without fear of a reaction.

What is the blood used for?

Few people need a transfusion of “whole blood”, and generally people only receive the portion of blood that they need. Hence several patients can benefit from one unit of blood—in fact, one donation of whole blood can save up to three lives!

It is used to treat a variety of conditions:

  • Cancer patients
  • Accident, burn and shock victims
  • Surgical patients—a heart operation, for example, requires on average six pints of red blood cells and six pints of platelets.
  • Mothers and babies before and after birth.
  • To provide clotting factors for people with bleeding disorders, e.g. haemophiliacs.
  • Platelets are used to control haemorrhage, and are often used in patients with leukaemia.
  • Plasma can be used to obtain other immune system products, including immunoglobulins and anti-D.

Is the blood safe?

NZBS uses all the latest tests to screen for any transmissible infection. This includes hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Every donation of blood is tested. Each donor also has to complete a confidential questionnaire to assess any other risks.

Check you are eligible:

  • 16 to 60 yrs old
  • Over 50kgs
  • In good physical health
  • No recent viral/bacterial illness (including coughs and colds)
  • No tattoo or body piercing within the last six months
  • Not resident in the UK, France or Ireland between 1980-1996 for more than 6 months.

The whole visit is over in an hour, and the actual collection of blood takes less than ten minutes. Around 470 mls of blood is taken each visit (approximately a pint). Whole blood can be donated up to four times a year. Plasma and platelets can be donated more often. Your body will replenish the blood cells within a few weeks.

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