Getting Blood Donations Across the World Is Tricky Business

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Desmond Porter squeezes a ball while donating blood to the Armed Services Blood Program to supply much-needed blood for those in need around the world. Army photo by Capt. Charles An

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Desmond Porter squeezes a ball while donating blood to the Armed Services Blood Program to supply much-needed blood for those in need around the world. Army photo by Capt. Charles An

 By Katie Lange 
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

When it comes to war, one thing service members can always count on is having blood available when they need it. Steady blood supplies are a pretty standard expectation; however, making sure that expectation is always met isn’t an easy feat.

Preparation and readiness are key mottos for the Armed Services Blood Program. It’s the only blood donation organization that is dedicated to service members and their beneficiaries, so collecting blood products and shipping them to military installations all over the world is a serious effort.

January is National Blood Donor Month. As part of that, the ASBP is holding its largest drive of the year on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

“The West Point blood drive is the largest military blood collection effort to support our warfighters and their beneficiaries in the ASBP. The military blood program is a joint service program; however, the West Point blood drive is led by the Army Blood Program, one of the three service components of the ASBP,” said Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, the ASBP director. “This is an important and herculean effort, especially for periods like the winter months when donations are low.”

“This is our opportunity to introduce our future platoon leaders, company commanders, battalion commanders and brigade commanders to the ASBP … so when they get out [in the field], they know it exists and there’s a clear understanding that we’re not a civilian organization,” said Lt. Col. Audra Taylor, the director of the Army Blood Program. ASBP blood drop

For those who have given whole blood, it’s not a difficult process. You fill out the required form, complete a donor screening and interview process, then spend about 10 minutes sitting in a chair, lightly flexing or squeezing something soft while the bag rocking beside you fills up. You grab a drink and light snack to help you replenish what you’ve lost, and you’re done.

But on the collector’s end, there’s a lot more to the process before it’s ready for patient use. During the four-day West Point drive, Taylor said they expect to collect about 500 units per day. Those units must be processed, tested and labeled before they can be shipped to support warfighters and family members worldwide.

Here’s how they make it happen.

Once the blood drive starts, all donations will be shipped daily to a designated Army blood donor center, where they’ll be processed into components like plasma, platelets and red cells, then tested for transfusion-transmitted diseases. All of the products that meet the stringent regulatory requirements are then labeled and ready for shipment to support patients around the world. Some units are shipped to the Armed Services Whole Blood Processing Laboratory to support our warfighters, while other units are shipped directly to medical treatment facilities.

Units of donated blood are prepared to be stored at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Nov. 7, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nigel Sandridge

Units of donated blood are prepared to be stored at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Nov. 7, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nigel Sandridge

“The goal is to get the labeled units to the ASWBPL within four days of collection, because it’s going to take a few more days to reach the final destination,” Taylor said.

Once the units leave the laboratory, they’ll be sent to their first stop in theater, the Expeditionary Blood Transshipment Center, which will check the shipment, place the units in storage and prepare smaller shipments. Those shipments then move on to blood support detachments, which will repeat that process and ship the units to medical treatment facilities in theater.

Why Giving Often Is Important

The West Point blood drive might collect a lot of blood at one time, but it by no means will last throughout the year. Keep in mind that blood and blood products have an expiration date. The red blood cells will expire in about 42 days after they are collected, while the frozen plasma will expire in one year.

So while one donation is great, remember that more is constantly needed.

“Blood is one of those things that you don’t really think about, but when you need it, it’s always there,” Taylor said. “We like people to become regular donors so that the ASBP is ready to provide support when called upon.”

If you’re interested in becoming a regular donor, you can give whole blood every 56 days. You can even check here to see if you’re eligible to donate again.

So whether you’re at West Point for their big drive this month or at another location that’s conducting a blood drive, think about giving a little. You never know whose life it might save!

You can find pictures and more that highlight the West Point blood drive at MilitaryBlood.dod.mil and on Flickr.

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  • Donating blood is extremely important! Please donate some blood and support our troops, look for the official ASBP seal.