Blood Banks – Everything You Need to Know
The term “blood banking” has been around since 1937, but the practice of using donated blood for various medical reasons has been around for thousands of years. Yes, you read that right, thousands! How and where did blood banks start? What happens to your blood after you donate? And what are the benefits of donating blood?
You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers! Let’s dive into everything you need to know about blood banking — including what blood banks are, their history, how they work, and why you should consider donating blood today.
What is a Blood Bank?
Blood banks are facilities that collect, type, process, test, and store blood until it is needed for a transfusion or some other medical procedure. While whole blood is the most common blood product stored in these facilities, it is not unusual to find platelets, plasma, or red cells as well. After the blood is stored, hospitals order the blood they need based on their patient load.
History of Blood Banking
As we look at the history of blood banking, it helps to understand why it’s important to store blood in the first place. In the modern day, blood stored in banks is used for blood transfusions during surgeries, to treat injured patients suffering from blood loss, and in many other medical situations. Before blood banking, blood transfusions had to be performed directly from a donor to the patient; otherwise, the blood would coagulate and become unusable.
Before transfusions, bloodletting was a common procedure used in medical practice as early as 2000 BC. The thought was that by performing a controlled bleed on a patient, doctors could rid them of infected or weak blood. We know now, however, that this isn’t very effective. The practice of bloodletting faced opposition beginning in the 1800s and gradually began to fall out of fashion. Interestingly, bloodletting has widely been considered a medical precursor to modern-day blood transfusions.
The first blood transfusion to a human was recorded in 1667 when King Louis XIV’s doctor transfused blood from a sheep to a 15-year-old boy. Miraculously, the boy lived following this procedure. In 1818, the first recorded human-to-human blood transfusion was performed. Unfortunately, after showing initial improvement, the patient who received this transfusion died from their ailments.
From here, blood-related science made impressive strides. In 1901 and 1902, researchers discovered the four primary blood types A, B, O, and AB. A few years later, in 1914, medical professionals determined that blood could be stored for several days without coagulating when combined with sodium citrate and refrigerated. With this breakthrough, transfusions no longer had to be completed directly from donor to recipient.
Because blood could now be stored ahead of use, the concept of what we know as blood banking soon followed. In 1917, an army doctor stored type O blood before the Battle of Cambrai in World War I. Then, in 1922, the first blood donor service opened in London. The idea spread worldwide, and the first network of blood facilities opened in the Soviet Union in 1930. Five years later, the Mayo Clinic opened the first in-hospital blood facility in Rochester, MN. Finally, in 1937, Dr. Bernard Fantus of Chicago’s Cook County Hospital coined the term “blood bank.”
With this global perspective in mind, let’s bring this history a little closer to home in the Upstate of South Carolina. In 1962, a group of physicians teamed up with hospital managers and civic leaders to create the Greenville Blood Assurance Plan. After being named the Carolina-Georgia Blood Center in 1981, the organization underwent one more name change in 2000 — and it’s been known as The Blood Connection ever since.
How Blood Banks Work
Blood banks like The Blood Connection work by collecting blood from a network of volunteer donors. Donations can take place in an established center or a mobile unit. During the donation process, volunteers give a pint of blood that is collected into a sterile plastic storage bag. The blood is then sent to a processing center where it is centrifuged (to separate plasma and platelets) and tested for various blood-borne diseases. If testing reveals a transmissible disease, the donor is notified, and the blood is discarded. Blood that has been tested and determined to be safe for recipients is then stored for up to 42 days.
So, how exactly does blood get to the patients? Hospitals order the blood they need based on their patient load. There is always a need for blood, which is why volunteers’ donations are greatly appreciated. Often, there will be pushes for blood donations in response to natural disasters or shootings. As you might imagine, there is a greater need for blood in areas impacted by flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other catastrophic events that injure many people. Blood banks are always reaching out to volunteer donors, which brings us to our final question: Why should you donate to a blood bank?
Why You Should Donate Blood
Donating to blood banks has a tremendously positive impact on your community. Every donation saves a life — sometimes, a single donation can save up to three lives! According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 36,000 units of blood are needed every day in the United States. Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood or platelets. That’s why donations are crucial — the more safe blood that blood banks have on hand, the more patients they can help. In the past two years, there have been several blood shortages, as the trend of low blood donor turnout continues after the pandemic. Current trends indicate that only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood each year, which is why every donation inspires so much gratitude. The hope for blood centers is that this percentage will rise.
We appreciate every donation our volunteers make, and we show this appreciation by offering rewards for our blood donors! Each reward is our way of saying thank you for being a lifesaver and giving back to this incredible community we call home!
To learn more about donating blood and find out whether you are eligible, visit https://thebloodconnection.org/donors/.