blood products

Specialized Blood Products: How Donations Help Patients With Unique Needs

Whole blood donations save lives. But did you know that a big part of that life-saving quality is the specialized blood products the whole blood contains? Thanks to medical technology and the work of our team members, each of these blood products can be isolated from whole blood donations and prepared to serve specific functions. 

Our blood is full of rich components that allow our bodies to function properly, but some people experience deficiencies or undergo trauma that calls for specialized transfusions. Whole blood and specialized blood donations give countless patients the transfusions they need. Let’s look at those specialized blood products and how The Blood Connection works to maintain a steady supply of each.

Understanding Specialized Blood Products

As we said, several specialized blood products come together to make whole blood. These products can be separated from a whole blood donation to treat patients with specific health needs.

Let’s start with red and white blood cells. Red blood cells are the most abundant cells in the blood. They contain hemoglobin, a protein that binds to oxygen in the lungs and releases it to body tissues. Red blood cells’ primary task is to equip the body to perform metabolic processes and generate energy. Conversely, white blood cells directly support our immune systems, as they help defend against infections, viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders.

Next is plasma, the liquid component of blood. Plasma is a combination of water, electrolytes, proteins, hormones, and nutrients. At the most basic level, plasma is the transport system for red cells, white cells, and every other blood component, including the platelets that play a crucial role in blood clotting and help prevent excessive bleeding.

Unfortunately, not everyone has enough of these blood products for their body to function optimally. Understanding the life-saving capabilities of each blood component makes it easier to understand the importance of blood products and whole blood donations.

Types of Specialized Blood Products

With this basic overview of blood products in mind, let’s take a closer look at the specific functions of each and how they’re collected and stored.


Platelets are colorless cells in the blood that stick to the lining of blood vessels — and each other — to stop or prevent bleeding. They can be separated from whole blood and combined with other donations to create one transfusable unit. They can also be obtained using an apheresis machine, which allows a single donor to contribute four to six times more platelets than they would through a standard whole blood donation. 

The most common uses of platelets include cancer treatments, organ transplants, and surgeries. They can also be used to treat a condition called thrombocytopenia, a shortage of platelets, and other platelet function abnormalities.


Plasma is the liquid portion of blood. Approximately 90% water, it helps maintain proper blood pressure and volume and supplies critical protein for blood clotting and overall immunity. Plasma also carries electrolytes to muscles to help maintain the body’s pH balance, promoting proper cell function.

Plasma is collected by separating the liquid portion of blood from the cells. Like platelets, it can be separated from whole blood or collected using an apheresis machine. Donated plasma is frozen within 24 hours to preserve its valuable clotting factors. Once frozen, it can be stored for up to a year and thawed when needed. Plasma donations are most commonly used to treat trauma, burn, and shock, but they can also be beneficial for patients with liver disease or clotting factor deficiencies.

Red Blood Cells

Red blood cells give blood its distinctive color. They’re produced in the blood marrow and are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and taking carbon dioxide from the lungs to be exhaled. How plentiful are red blood cells? Two to three drops of blood hold approximately one billion red blood cells!

Red blood cells are removed from plasma and used to treat anemia without significantly altering a patient’s blood volume. They can also be used to address acute blood loss and a broad spectrum of blood disorders.


Cryoprecipitate, or cryo, is the plasma component that’s richest in clotting factors. These clotting factors slow or stop bleeding caused by illness or injury. Cryo is collected by freezing and slowly thawing plasma. It’s then combined with contributions from other donors to create a sufficient amount for a single transfusion.

Cryo is most commonly used to control bleeding in people whose blood doesn’t clot properly. Patients with hemophilia or Von Willebrand disease often require cryo transfusions, and cryo also serves as a valuable source of fibrinogen for patients who struggle to produce enough clotting protein on their own. 

How You Can Make a Difference With TBC

At The Blood Connection, we collect four donation types: plasma, platelets, red blood cells, and whole blood. We can separate the components during and after your donation to give recipients precisely what they need. The process and donor eligibility can vary based on the type of donation, so it’s vital that you talk to one of our team members to ensure you’re eligible to donate.

While maintaining a diverse set of blood products is important, having a full supply of products from every blood type is also critical to ensuring patients have what they need going into procedures. That’s why we encourage our donors to learn their blood types. Your blood type could be in high demand and be the life-saving gift someone’s been waiting for!

Whole blood donations are the most common type. During this donation, a pint of blood is collected and used primarily for trauma and surgery. It’s the quickest and easiest type of donation and can be done every 56 days. If you want to donate whole blood, you must be at least 110 pounds and 16 or older. 

Platelets are made in your bone marrow and can be donated every seven days at one of our donation centers. All donors must be 17 or older, and their platelet count must be at least 150, depending on blood volume. Additionally, female donors must be tested for HLA if they’ve ever been pregnant.

Plasma donors can donate at one of our centers every 28 days. Like with platelet donations, female donors who have been pregnant must be tested for HL, and all plasma donors must be 17 years or older.

When only red cells are donated, we call this a double red cell donation. Double red cell donors can give every 112 days in one of our centers or select mobile donation centers. To make this kind of donation, you must be 17 years or older and have a hemoglobin level of at least 13.3 g/dl. 

If you want to complete one of our four types of donations, please visit our website to schedule an appointment today. We’d love to help you discover which donation type is best for you and help you do your part to save lives in your community!