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Canadian Blood Services issues plea for holiday season donors

Edmonton Health Matters: Dec. 18
WATCH ABOVE: Canadian Blood Services is issuing an urgent call for donors over the holidays. Su-Ling Goh has that plus tips on how to combat the stress of the season.

During the latter half of December, the need for blood remains high but the amount of donors walking through the Canadian Blood Services’ door declines.

On a normal day, there are 120 appointments available for donors to give blood at the organization’s Edmonton office. They are usually full or mostly filled up but right now, there are over 100 open blood appointments for Dec. 31.

“As you can imagine, people are not thinking about donating blood during that time,” said Robyn Henwood, Canadian Blood Services’ Edmonton-based territory manager. “We really do need blood donors from Dec. 24 through Dec. 31.

“On Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, people aren’t thinking about donating blood — they have other things going on.”

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And while most people take time off during the holidays, Henwood said “hospital patients and cancer treatment aren’t taking the holidays off.”

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How much blood is donated per year?

One unit of blood is approximately one pint.

“Last year in Edmonton, we collected 74,312 units of blood,” she said.

“Those are actual people coming through our door and donating it,” she said. “We collect a standard amount every day to make sure we keep our inventory at a safe level.

“We had a target of 72,313 units, so Edmonton over-collected last year, which is really great.”

The excess amount of blood can also be shared, and because Canadian Blood Services is a national organization, Henwood said “the blood can be distributed across Canada and used for the need of the hospitals.”

“CBS works very closely with hospitals to make sure we always have enough inventory on hand — but [we’re] also being mindful of not being wasteful of blood or blood products.”

The organization is on a carefully watched timeline.

“Platelets only last seven days, and whole blood has a shelf life of 48 days,” Henwood said, “but it’s usually off our shelves within a week to be used by hospitals.

“Plasma can be frozen and used up for one year.”

Where does the blood go?

It’s not all for car crashes and traumatic incidents.

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“Someone going through chemotherapy can use eight blood units a week just to get them through treatment,” Henwood said. “This is primarily the platelets made out of the blood.

“You don’t necessarily think about someone going through cancer treatment as needing blood, but they actually use a majority of the blood donated by donors.”

Though donors are needed during the holidays, Henwood said there are unsung heroes in blood donation.

“We have some fantastic regular donors — men who come back every 56 days [and] women who come back every 84.

“We also have plasma donors who come in every single week to donate their plasma, without fail,” she said.

“They are constantly rebooking the minute they walk into this clinic.”

There is a certain amount of time that men and women need to wait to donate once again, but Henwood said regular donors “make sure that as soon as they’re eligible again, they’re on our beds so hospital patients are never concerned.”

“That’s just incredible,” she said.  “We’re so fortunate that way.”

Though the clinic’s regular donors are noticed and appreciated, those who come in from time to time are not forgotten.

“We also appreciate the one-offs… the people who come at Christmas as part of their holiday giving, the people who come on [the] birthdays of themselves or relatives to show their appreciation that way.”

According to Henwood, there are two main reasons people tell her organization that they are hesitant to donate blood.

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“One is that they were never asked,” she said. “Consider this as me asking you.”

The other is the fear of needles.

“This is one I can appreciate,” she said. “I’m very afraid of needles, but one thing I’m very fortunate of is that I work next door to the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

“When I’m feeling nervous, it’s easy for me to think of those kids who are probably a lot more afraid of those needles than I am.”

If you’d like to donate blood, you can book an appointment at blood.ca.