Although it is rare, blood may be transfused as whole blood. Most often, however, it is transfused as one or more components: red cells, plasma, platelets or cryoprecipitated antihemophiliac factor (AHF). Most often doctors will elect to transfuse only the component or components needed for the specific condition being addressed. At LifeShare each gift of whole blood is carefully separated into its four parts to save or sustain as many as four people in the donor’s community.
Whole blood circulates the body distributing nourishment, electrolytes, hormones, vitamins, antibodies, heat, and oxygen to the body’s tissues. Whole blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets suspended in a yellowish fluid called plasma.
Red blood cells give blood its red color and contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. The percentage of blood volume composed of red blood cells is referred to as: hematocrit. There are about one billion red blood cells in two to three drops of blood, and, for every 600 red blood cells, there are about 40 platelets and one white cell.
Red cells are primarily manufactured in the bone marrow of the body’s largest bones. Red cells are constantly being produced and eliminated as they break down after a life-cycle of approximately four months.
Red cells are the most commonly transfused blood component. They are often transfused into patients suffering from anemia, kidney failure, cancer, or gastrointestinal bleeding and those with massive blood loss resulting from trauma or surgery.
The refrigerated shelf-life of red cells is 42 days or 10 years if properly frozen at ultra-low temperature.
Plasma makes up about half of the body’s blood volume and comprises mainly water. It is the solution that transports the blood’s other components throughout the body. Plasma, which is 90 percent water, constitutes about 55 percent of blood volume.
Fresh frozen plasma (FFP) is plasma frozen within hours of donation in order to preserve clotting factors. At LifeShare, FFP is stored for up to one year. Patients who need FFP are primarily those suffering with a bleeding disorder.
Cryoprecipitated AHF is manufactured at LifeShare from a portion of donors’ plasma. It is rich in certain clotting factors and thusly used to prevent or control bleeding in individuals with hemophilia and other inherited coagulation abnormalities.
Platelets are very small cellular components of blood that help the clotting process by sticking to the lining of blood vessels. Most often the recipients of platelets are patients with cancer or leukemia. During harsh but necessary chemotherapy and radiation, patients’ platelets are destroyed; without a healthy person’s donation of platelets the patient is at risk of fatal hemorrhaging. Platelets are made in the bone marrow and survive in the circulatory system for about 10 days before being removed from the body by the spleen.
Platelets are stored at room temperature for up to five days; however, they must be kept in a constant state of motion on an agitator to keep the sticky cellular structure from clotting.
White blood cells protect the body from foreign invasion by bacteria and viruses. There are several types of white blood cells: granulocytes and macrophages protect against infection by surrounding and destroying invading bacteria and viruses, and lymphocytes support immune system defense.
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