Giving blood, saving lives

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Tyrone A. Parker, Sr. donates during a Red Cross blood drive in Chicago, Illinois, on December 19, 2010.(Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

By Christopher Linvill

After the initial pinch in my arm, there is a stinging sensation for about 10 seconds. The pain goes away, but now I feel pressure inside my left arm near the joint.

The nurse hands me a cylinder-shaped piece of plastic and tells me to roll it in my hand so I can keep the blood flowing in my arm. I look down and see a thin plastic tube. Blood flows from my arm into a clear plastic bag.

The nurse leaves to tend to another donor who is participating in the American Red Cross Blood Drive in DCCC’s Marple Campus café, Jan. 29.

The blood drive is coordinated by Georgine Smith, the Wellness Coordinator, and runs once a semester.

When I first arrive to donate blood, I meet Kevin Aloi, general education major in his second semester at DCCC.This is Aloi’s first time giving blood, and he says he is nervous about it. “I thought it would be a good way to get over my fear of needles,” he says.

Another reason Aloi says he wants to give blood, besides saving lives, is to learn his blood type.

My blood type is O positive, the most common blood type. O positive donors can only receive blood from O positive or O negative donors, but can give blood to any positive blood types.

After the blood leaves the donor location, it is processed and then sent to an ARC lab, says Karnotda Jones, an ARC team supervisor.

According to the ARC website, the blood is processed into a computer database when it arrives at the lab.

The blood is then separated into platelets, plasma, and red cells. Some of the blood gets sent off in test tubes to get tested for blood type and for any diseases it may contain, in which case the blood will be disposed of.

If the blood passes all the tests, it is sent to storage and the platelets, plasma and red cells are each stored individually.

The red cells are stored at 6 degrees Celsius for up to 42 days, and the plasma is frozen and stored for up to one year.

The platelets are stored at room temperature for up to five days in an agitator, an apparatus for stirring liquid.

From storage facilities, the blood is shipped to hospitals and made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I next have my finger pricked by a little needle, which is an annoyance more than actual pain, and a drop of blood is put into a little machine that measures the hemoglobin levels in my blood. Hemoglobin is what allows the red cells in your blood to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Now I am asked a series of questions to ensure my blood is not contaminated: Did you ever have any STDs, have you received a tattoo in the last 12 months or have you ever been to a specific country between specific dates?

After the question portion, I am asked to flip a sign over that lets them know that I am ready to give blood. I sit in the chair waiting for a nurse to come by and give me the okay to move on to the donor area.

Another student, Justin Gomez, a communications major in his second year at the college, is a walk-in donor like myself.

Every time the ARC is at the college, Gomez tries to give blood. This is his seventh time giving blood.

“To save three lives every time you [give blood], it makes you feel good,” Gomez says. “Plus you sit on a table and it is really easy to do.”

Gomez actually gives Aloi some tips about donating blood before he goes into the room to answer questions. Gomez says to not look at the needle when it is going into your arm and to listen to music to keep you distracted from everything.

After about six minutes of being alone and trying to relax while the blood is leaving my body, Jones comes over to change the blood-filled bags.

Jones has been working for the ARC for seven years and goes to blood drives five to six days a week. Jones tells me that their goal varies based on where the donor location is.

Today the goal is 40, Jones says. “It would be 60, but because of no shows it is 40,” he adds.

Jones explains the importance of giving blood. “When you give [blood], you can save the lives of three individuals,” he says. “Platelets, plasma and red cells can all be separated to save three different people.”

After the second bag is full, Jones takes the needle out of my arm and tells me to raise it straight into the air.

He then tells me to apply pressure to it with a gauze pad in my right hand while my arm is still elevated.

Once I am finished giving blood, I eat a small bag of pretzels and take a drink of water as I head off to my biology class.

I feel a little dizzy, but I know, as time passes, I’ll be okay.

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