Donating blood is a constant need

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Keesler is one of only three Air Force bases in the continental U. S. that offer a blood donation center on station. Keesler's donor center is part of the Armed Services Blood Program which shares the joint mission of collecting, processing and distributing thousands of blood products for military medical centers at home and in-theater overseas.

There is no substitute for human blood and blood products cannot be stored indefinitely, so there is a constant need for donations.

"Donating takes different amounts of time depending on the type of donation," said Lisa Lynn, 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron blood recruiter. "Volunteers can donate blood, plasma or platelets. We take whole blood at the blood center and process it. Plasma and platelets are taken at the hospital."

Multiple units of blood may be needed for a single trauma victim. Platelets may be required daily by leukemia patients who do not produce enough for themselves, said Lynn.

Red blood cells spread oxygen throughout the body, while platelets are used for clotting. Plasma is the liquid portion of blood that transports the rest of the blood's cells. Different donating options yield different amounts of each product.

"Donating whole blood gives one unit of red blood cells and one unit of plasma, but donating plasma by itself yields three units of plasma," said Rose Weatherly, 81st MDTS registered nurse apheresis supervisor. "In turn, donating platelets gives about six times as many usable platelets as donating whole blood."

Blood types must be matched between the donor and the recipient to ensure a safe transfusion.

"There are four different blood groups: A, B, AB, and O," said Lynn. "A person's blood group is distinguished by tiny antigens which cover the blood cell surface. Group A blood has A antigens, group B has B, group AB blood has both, and group O blood has neither A nor B antigens."

In addition to A and B antigens, there is an Rh antigen which determines a person's blood type. Individuals who have this antigen are known as Rh positive and individuals without it are known as Rh negative.

The combination of an individual's blood group and the presence or absence of the Rh antigen determines an individual's blood type.

"Donors who have Type AB meet a greater need if they donate plasma -- their red cells cannot go to everyone, only their plasma can," said Weatherly. "And the O- blood donor's red cells are needed because those can be given to anyone."

Blood products have various expiration dates, so donations of all types are always needed at the hospital and the blood donor center.

"Red blood cells are good for 42 days after collection," said Weatherly. "Platelets have an even shorter shelf life--they must be used within five days of collection."

During platelet donation, the donor's blood is processed through an apheresis machine that draws blood from one arm, extracts the platelets from the blood, and then returns all remaining blood components to the donor.

Whether a person donates whole blood, plasma or platelets, there are certain restrictions to keep donated blood healthy.

"To donate, you must be at least 17 years old, have been feeling well for at least three days, be well hydrated, and have eaten something prior to donating," said Lynn. "Tattoos, acupuncture, foreign travel and some immunizations can defer volunteers from donating for up to 12 months."

The best dates for donation are at the beginning of the week so there is time to process the blood, said Lynn.

For more information, call 228-376-6100 or 228-376-4414, or visit