By Kirstin Grace-Simons (Madigan Army Medical Center)January 29, 2019
Editor's note: Madigan Works! is a video series created especially for social media platforms to inform patients and the general public alike what goes on behind-the-scenes to make Madigan work. Each episode has an accompanying article. Shining a light on blood donation to see how collection and processing happens at Madigan is the current focus.
It is hard to imagine a medical drama completing its hour without transfusing at least one unit of blood. Every episode reminds that blood is a lifeline. But, how does that blood get to the emergency room or downrange when it's needed?
The Armed Services Blood Bank Center-Pacific NW is the only military blood supplier in the Northwest. It conducts drives throughout the Puget Sound area collecting blood that it then supplies to the area military hospitals as well as the armed forces for use worldwide.
The ASBBC-PNW is one of the larger collectors of whole blood product for the military, supplying medical facilities and operations worldwide through its shipments to Army-managed clearinghouses on each coast.
"We do three to four drives a week, or 12 to 14 a month at military facilities from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island up north of us here all the way down to the Presidio of Monterey in California," said Staff Sgt. Aubrey Hamilton, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the blood bank center.
The Armed Services Blood Program has been in operation since 1962 and is one of only four national blood collection organizations ensuring the nation has a safe, effective blood supply. It works closely with civilian counterparts, sharing donors and blood products where they are needed.
"Right now we have 24 personnel. We have civilians and a mix of active duty Air Force, Army and Navy; along with Army Reservists," he added.
When blood is collected at the mobile drives, like those that occur monthly in Madigan's Medical Mall ground floor, or at the center itself, its components and how they are used is always considered.
The blood type O can be transfused to anyone, making it the best blood product to use in emergency situations where there is no time to determine blood type. It is left whole for shipping for use downrange.
For all other blood types, the bags of blood are spun at a high rate of speed in centrifuges to separate its components with the heavier red blood cells dropping to the bottom as the plasma floats to the top, which is then squeezed out into its own bag.
"In general terms, the red blood cells are used to oxygenate the blood; plasma is used as a blood product expander, a hydrator, if you will, and for nutrition," explained Hamilton.
A major part of blood collection and preparation for further use is testing.
Each donor will have some of their blood drawn into a vial. All of the vials collected in a day are sent to a local lab for testing for diseases like HIV or hepatitis. Any units testing positive will be destroyed.
The whole blood is also screened for antibodies that can be carried in it. These develop as a response to a previous exposure, possibly generations back. These can result in a transfusion reaction in the person receiving the blood if the antibody profiles are not compatible.
Donating whole blood is a simple process. A donor will fill out a form, interview with a lab professional about their medical history to ensure they were not likely to be exposed to disease, and relax for about 10 minutes as a unit, or roughly a pint, of blood is collected from their arm.
Apheresis is another blood collection process that takes more commitment from the donor, but the collected product is highly useful.
"When we get a cut, we will stop bleeding because our blood clots. Well, it's the platelets, which are small fragments of cells within our blood, that form those clots," said Hamilton.
A person can have a low platelet count because they are fighting an illness like cancer. Or a condition like hemophilia can have the same effect. A transfusion of platelets can really boost healing ability.
A platelet donor will come into the center and relax in a reclining lounge chair for about an hour while their blood is drawn, in small units, into a machine that filters out the platelets and returns the rest back into their bodies.
For one of the center's frequent donors, Charles Dowd, donating platelets is an easy choice.
"It's not painful; you're just relaxing. You get food and drink for free. They have a large selection of movies, or watch TV. They have a great, friendly staff. You're doing a great service for military, not only active duty, but dependents. Platelets go to babies, too," he said.
Platelets, like all the other blood products, are tested, logged, labeled, checked, double checked, triple checked and properly stored and packaged for shipping, all to ensure they are safe to transfuse to the patient in need.
To find out more about the ASBP or to schedule an appointment to donate, please visit www.militaryblood.dod.mil.
To see this video episode of Madigan Works!, check out Madigan's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/MadiganHealth/