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 by Susan Hanna

Approximately every minute of every day, someone in Canada needs blood. In fact, according to a recent poll, 52 per cent of Canadians say they, or a family member, have needed blood or blood products for surgery or for medical treatment.

“There is a constant need for blood,” says Annie Barrette, Resource Manager, Manitoba and Northeastern Ontario for Canadian Blood Services. “We are always trying to recruit new donors and retain our current donors.”

Donated blood is the source of red blood cells, platelets and plasma. “A cancer patient may use up to five units of blood a week for the platelets they need,” said Ms. Barrette. “A victim of a car crash may need up to 50 units of whole blood to replace the blood they have lost.”

Hospitals rely on donated blood. “Blood and blood products are very important tools in our toolkit of treatment options for seriously ill patients,” says Almonte General Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Dolan.

To donate, you must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 50 kg (110 lbs.), be in general good health, and feeling well on the day of your donation. If you have never donated before and have had your 61st birthday, or if you are between the ages of 67 and 71, and have not donated within the last two years, you must be assessed by a physician who must fill out and sign a letter that is available on the Canadian Blood Services website.

Before donating, your blood pressure and iron level will be checked, and you must answer a series of questions relating to medication, travel and other factors. You cannot donate within 72 hours of tooth extraction, a root canal or dental surgery, or within 24 hours of a dental cleaning or filling.

“We follow this screening process for the health and safety of the donor and the recipients of donated blood,” explains Ms. Barrette. “If you aren’t sure whether you are eligible to donate, call us or visit our website for more information.”

The donation process takes about an hour, including registration, eight to ten minutes to donate the blood, and a refreshment period that includes rest and a snack of juice and cookies. You must wait a minimum of 56 days between donations.

“Blood has a short shelf life,” says Ms. Barrette. “Platelets, for example, last only five days. That’s why we constantly need donations.”