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What to Know About Blood Donation

Edited by: Sophia Savva


The weekend of March 9, the Canadian Blood Services put out a call for 10,000 blood donors to come forward. A large number of donors was reportedly needed to help the service top up their blood supply for the spring, after a particularly hard winter which depleted them. 

According to Canadian Blood Services, there’s a 50% chance that you or someone you know will need a blood transfusion at some point in your life. This statistic makes the prospect of donation personal. But what is the science behind blood transfusion, how do you get involved and what does it entail?

The science

Blood types are determined by the antigens on the surface of your red blood cells (RBCs).You can think of blood antigens like identity cards for your body; if RBCs showing the incorrect identity enter the bloodstream, your body attacks it, thinking it is a foreign intruder. So, if you were to have a blood transfusion with a blood type that doesn’t match yours, it could cause a potentially fatal immune response.

The ABO blood group denotes whether you have one antigen (A or B), both (AB) or neither of them (O). The Rh blood group is another system of 50 different antigens, the most important being the D antigen. This is why you have a positive (+) if you express the D antigen or negative (-) if you don’t.

This is also why it’s so important to pay attention to blood type when undergoing a transfusion. People with O (-) blood are universal donors, because they have neither A or B antigens, nor Rh D, on their RBCs, meaning that they remain completely undetected by the host’s immune system. Universal blood recipients, on the other hand, are people with AB (+), because they have every antigen expressed. It doesn’t matter what blood type they are transfused with, because their body recognizes all of them.

Source: Canadian Blood Services

You can also donate plasma, platelets, stem cells and cord blood. However, if you want to donate stem cells, for example, you need to go through the OneMatch registry which allows a host to match with a recipient. If you’re interested in learning your blood type, Canadian Blood Services hosts clinics where you can find out this information in minutes!

How to get involved

If you’re interested in donating, the Canadian Blood Services has permanent and mobile clinics around the GTA. Mobile clinics visit different communities and set up temporarily at different locations such as university campuses and community centers. Once you donate blood once, you get a Canadian Blood Services donor identification card, making the process faster for walk-ins and appointments.

The Canadian Blood Services has operated clinics at the University of Toronto Scarborough before, and there are some permanent clinics located by the St. George campus. You can find upcoming mobile clinic dates and locations by entering in your postal code here.

Source: Canadian Blood Services

For those of you who are unable to donate blood but still want to get involved, Canadian Blood Services has volunteer opportunities available.

What happens when I donate?

Donation days look different depending on what you’re donating. The steps below are for the most common donation: whole blood. For a more comprehensive walk-through, check out Canadian Blood Services’ donation video to learn more!

First, you must sign in and fill out forms which ask questions to determine whether you are eligible. For example, people who have gotten a tattoo or piercing can’t donate for six months afterwards.

Then you will speak to a staff member who will give you a finger prick to see your iron levels and determine whether you’re healthy enough to donate. Your blood pressure will also be taken at that time. And then, you sit down and donate!

How much blood it takes to treat a few select illnesses/conditions. Source: Canadian Blood Services 

Following the donation, you’re asked to remain on-site for a few minutes to ensure that you are feeling well. Juice and cookies are provided to help you recover.

Donating blood is a great way to help other Canadians who are in need. Your donation can save lives! For more information on eligibility, the process and why you should donate, visit the Canadian Blood Services website.


Cover photo source: Canadian Blood Services 

I study neuroscience at U of T and in my free time you can find me writing, surrounded by good friends, reading ethnographies and eating alfajores.
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