Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Blood donation a vital activity

Entering the congested room, University of Wisconsin junior Eric Miller walks confidently to the sign-up desk for Sellery Hall’s annual blood drive. An eager volunteer hands him an initial questionnaire and guideline sheets for the hour-long procedure. He answers the questions carefully and chuckles when reaching those referring to health practices before 1977.

“Geez, I wasn’t even born yet,” Miller said.

Even though college students might find it amusing, inquiries have to be this thorough. The American Red Cross can’t take chances with their donation procedures.


After Miller’s medical history is looked at, he enters a secluded cube where a nurse conducts a “mini-physical.” The nurse checks his heart rate, blood pressure, iron level and takes an initial blood sample. Once cleared by the nurse, he’s ready to donate. He expresses little fear over the next step.

“I’m not nervous at all,” Miller said. “It’s something I can do to help. Sure, I may feel queasy for a bit, but I may be saving someone’s life.”

With that, he’s called into the next donor spot. Lisa, a collections specialist and registered nurse, instructs him to hold a pressure ball while she locates a vein for donation.

Once found, she cleans the spot with iodine before she inserts the needle. Blood flows quickly through a series of tubes before separating into three small pouches. A few minutes later, Miller is done and ready to leave. He exits feeling good about his decision.

“I’ve done the responsible thing,” Miller said.

This is the easy part. After the students leave, the donated blood undergoes rigorous testing before being given to a recipient. Although the donations are thoroughly processed, there is always room for improvement.

Recently, concerns have surfaced regarding contamination from the West Nile virus. An effective screen for West Nile is currently in the works, said Lam Kakaiya, medical director for LifeSource, a biotechnology company specializing in blood platelet sterilization.

LifeSource and the American Red Cross are the two main blood-supply providers in the Midwest. The two combined facilitate Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Both sources abide by strict testing and distribution procedures.

“We are highly regulated by the FDA,” LifeSource public relations representative Don Skiba said. “All the questions asked at screenings and testing processes are dictated by the FDA.”

All the blood LifeSource and the Red Cross collects goes through 13 series of tests, Skiba said.

The tests screen for hepatitis B and C, HIV and syphilis.

Lifesource also conducts more precise tests to catch viruses in their first stages of growth.

“We also do nucleic-acid testing to detect HIV and HCV at an early stage,” Skiba said.

Kelly McCoy, of the Badger-Hawkeye region of the American Red Cross, stressed the formulaic way in which her organization treats blood donations.

“It takes 48-72 hours to be processed,” she said. “The blood comes in, is tested, and then gets broken down into the different components.”

One donation turns into many health products. Blood samples are divided into plasma, platelets, red and white blood cells and various clotting agents. Each component is used for numerous types of medical problems. Platelet transfusions, for example, are high in number because of they can be used to treat many types of illnesses.

“[Platelets] are used for a variety of bleeding problems along with leukemia [and] lymphoma,” said Ron Oilshlager, UW Hospital’s Blood Bank supervisor.

Furthermore, the longevity of each of these products varies greatly. While blood cells can last for up to 42 days, platelets can only be stored for five. Plasma is the longest-lasting product, as it can remain frozen for up to a year.

Advances in the medical field are striving for an even cleaner sweep of viruses living in blood samples. Biotechnology research companies such as Cerus Corporation and V.I. Technologies are pushing for such a product. Coined as a “pathogen inactivation,” its purpose is to clean out all traces of bacteria and viruses residing within blood samples.

In effect, such a technology would completely sterilize blood. While Cerus has succeeded in “sterilizing” platelets, thorough cleansing of red blood cells is still far off. Questions of the altered blood’s effectiveness, side effects and product residue still exist.

However, the wait for answers to these questions does not stop the donation process, as blood drives occur constantly to obtain the necessary amounts of blood supply.

Kelly McCoy, a donor recruitment representative for the American Red Cross, organizes blood drives on the UW campus yearlong.

“We work with Youngblood at Union South, which holds blood drives Thursday and Friday during the school

year,” she said. “We also ask different student organizations and campus groups to sponsor


The presence of such activism in the blood-donation field is essential.

“It’s necessary for us to collect 1,000 pints daily,” McCoy said. “We serve 80 hospitals in our region and are part of the national source that produces over 50 percent of the nation’s blood supply.”

Lifesource’s figures agree.

“It’s necessary for 1,500 donors daily to come forth,” Skiba said.

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