Donors are able to regularly donate blood, platelets or plasma at many locations across Calgary

Lucille Sawatsky has a hobby that saves people’s lives — She is a regular blood donor at Canadian Blood Services in Calgary and has been named Canada’s top female blood donor.

 The 70-year-old woman has donated blood, or parts of it, 893 times. By the end of the year, she will hit 900 donations.

“It is just something to do. Everybody needs it,” she said. When she is on a new medication, she always checks if it is safe for her to donate blood.

Sawatsky started donating blood in the 1960s when volunteers knocked at her door looking for donors. She is now a regular donor and never misses an appointment.

“Even when I was working, my bosses never minded that I took off one hour.”

 Who can donate?

Printed material from the Canadian Blood Services says the need for blood is very high, as there is no substitute for human blood. It says that approximately every minute of every day blood is needed for medical purposes and adds that because the shelf life of blood is very short, it must be used within five days.Kevin Driscoll is a regular blood plasma donor at Canadian Health Services.

Photo by: Verena Isak

First-time donors must be between 17 and 71 years and in good general health, and blood can be donated every 56 days.

For Angela Harder, this is the fourth time she has donated blood.

“I just wanted to find my own way to give back,” she said, adding she is hoping to donate on a regular basis.

Safety comes first

Once the blood or its components are donated, the donation is tested for transmittable diseases such as HIV 1 and 2, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, West Nile virus and HTLV-I and II, or human T-cell lymphotropic virus. Donors are also screened before they donate blood to ensure no diseases are transmitted through the donations.

The Canadian Blood Services website says not everybody is eligible to donate blood. For example, people who have been in a malaria risk zone must wait one year before donating blood. They can, however, still donate platelets, plasma or red cells.

“Donate before your holidays, before you go away,” says Winn Rathbun of the Canadian Blood Services.

To avoid risk, one might not be eligible to donate blood because of their sexual activities, Rathbun says.

“We single out people who can’t trace their activities, but not specifically all gays.”

What can be donated

Frances Ward started donating blood in the 1970s and also volunteers as a donor ambassador for Canadian Blood Services.Angela Harder hopes to donate blood on a regular basis.

Photo by: Verena Isak

When her brother passed away in September 2009, she figured that she had to take his place. Since April 2011, she has regularly donated blood plasma.

“It’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything other than your time,” Ward says.

Interestingly, people are able to specifically donate blood plasma. A machine on site extracts the plasma and returns the rest of the blood to the donor. This process takes 35 to 45 minutes and your body replaces the plasma within three days, making it is possible to donate plasma every week.

Printed material from Canadian Blood Services says that plasma is essential for circulation and supports the immune system. It also controls excessive bleeding.

It is either transfused into a patient or used for the production of further products, the printed material says.

“It’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything other than your time.” – Frances Ward, regular blood and plasma donor

Donors are able to specifically donate platelets as well. This process takes 50 to 75 minutes. Although the body replaces the platelets within a few hours, it is only possible to donate them every 14 days.

Kevin Driscoll has been a regular platelet and plasma donor for about 20 years. He takes his time to donate about every one to two weeks, depending on the amount of free time the father of four has.

“It’s an easy way to make a difference to help — a way for me to be a part of the community. This makes me feel good,” he says.

Fast facts about human blood:

  • One unit of blood (455 ml) can save up to three lives
  • 52 per cent of Canadians say they or a family member have needed blood
  • An abdominal surgery requires up to four units of blood, a heart bypass surgery up to eight units, a car accident up to 50 units, a liver transplant up to 100 units
  • Cancer patients need up to eight units of blood per week as part of their treatment
  • There is no substitute for human blood
  • Approximately 90,000 new donors are needed per year
  • 55 per cent of blood volume is made up of plasma
  • Plasma taken during a donation is replaced within three days
  • Platelets taken during a donation are replaced within a few hours

visak@cjournal.ca