World War 2 was the beginning of banking blood in Canada. At that time 2.5 million bottles of blood were collected. As a result many soldiers and war victims were saved. Canada established a national blood transfusion service in 1947. By 1958 the operating costs of the blood transfusion process was subsidized by the government. Sixteen blood centres had been established by 1961, providing service to every region of the country. In the mid 60’s, the production of plastic bags replaced the use of sterile bottles and the practice of transfusing blood components rather than whole blood began. The process by which blood has been collected has changed over the past 60 years, but one thing has remained the same: people’s desire to help others in need. Today over 900,000 units of blood are collected each year in Canada outside of Quebec. Héma-Québec, which runs the province’s blood system, collected 252,340 units of blood from donors in 2011- 2012. While 54% of Canadians are eligible to donate blood only 3.5% actually do. Up to 3 lives can be saved with one donation of blood because whole blood donation is separated into red cells, platelets and plasma. White blood cells are not transfused to the patient as they often carry viruses and bacteria even though their role is to protect the body from illness. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues and remove carbon dioxide through the lungs; they are used for accident victims as well as surgical patients and those who suffer with anemia. Platelets role is to help blood clot; can be used to help control/stop bleeding and treat cancer patients. Plasma contains proteins which help fight infection, as well as calcium and magnesium which assist in clotting; used to treat burns or shock. The most common blood type in Canada is O positive although all blood types are always needed. O negative blood types are universal donors as people with all blood types can receive O negative blood. Sources: Canadian blood services, Héma- Québec and Canada.com How much blood does it take to save a life? Hip replacement surgery (2 units) Aplastic Anemia (4 units/month) Cancer treatment (5 units) Cardiovascular surgery (5 units) Internal bleeding (2 to 8 units) Leukemia (8 units a week) Auto accident (50 units) (units represent an average) The amount of blood collected during donation is 1 pint or 450 mls. From start to finish the process usually takes less than an hour, including determining eligibility, 5 to 15 minutes for the actual donation and 5 to 10 minutes of rest after the donation. Our bodies replace the blood donated and donors may give again in 56 days or every 2 months. The minimum age to donate is 17; minimum weight is 110 pounds. It is important to be well hydrated and to have eaten well before donating. While most people feel fine after donating blood, it is suggested to avoid strenuous activity for 6 – 8 hours. Controllers may return to work 24 hours after donating blood. A list of criteria must be met to be eligible to donate blood. Some reasons why people are not eligible to donate include recent dental treatment, surgeries, medications, new piercings or tattooing or suffering with a cold, flu or sore throat. Hemoglobin, blood pressure and temperature are checked during the screening process. A written and oral questionnaire regarding general health, travel history and activities that could pose a risk are explored before eligibility is determined. These questions are conducted in a private and confidential setting with a trained nurse. Some choose not to participate in blood transfusions over religious grounds. As a result “bloodless surgeries” have been developed and have shown favourable outcomes, leading the medical community to further examine of the safety and benefits of blood transfusions. Whatever your opinion, this “liquid organ transplant” is still a much needed resource, offering life for those in need. This Christmas season, when it is truly more blessed to give than receive, why not give the “gift of life” by becoming a donor. Canadian Blood services offers regular blood donor clinics as well as a variety of programs to promote donor participation. For more information and a clinic near you go to www.blood.ca.