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Donating Blood--History, Statistics, Facts and More

Bikers lined up to donate blood to the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

Bikers lined up to donate blood to the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

History of Blood Donation and Transfusions

Today we might take blood donation and transfusion for granted. We know that millions of donors everyday are helping to keep necessary blood components on the shelves to save lives. It wasn't always that easy.

Blood transfusions were studied in the 17th century. There were even some successful transfusions between animals. Attempts at transfusing blood from animals into humans offered mixed results.

A few who received minimal amounts of animal bloods were able to survive, but those given larger transfusions died. This led to transfusions being banned in many countries, and for nearly 150 years, the concept of transfusions was debated and generally ignored.

The first successful human blood donation recorded was in 1818, by Dr. James Blundell, who used the technique to save the live of a patient suffering from postpartum hemorrhage.

Only a few ounces of blood, donated by the woman's husband, was transferred. It was still a giant step towards understanding the value of blood transfusion.

Important Pioneers In Blood Transfusion

  • William Harvey--First to describe circulation. (1628)
  • Jean-Baptiste Denys--transfused sheep blood to human. (1667)
  • Richard Lower--transfused blood between two dogs. (1665)
  • Dr. James Blundell--First successful human transfusion. (1818)
  • Karl Landsteiner--discovered human blood groups. (1901)

Improving Transfusions

Dr. Blundell went on to perform more transfusions and to invent better instruments for the process. The first full-body transfusion was performed in 1840, but many people still died due to lack of understanding about the blood's composition.

This changed in 1901 when Karl Landsteiner discovered more about different blood types. This made transfusions safer, but they still had to be performed with the blood flowing directly from donor to recipient.

In 1910, it was discovered that anticoagulant could added to the blood, which was then frozen. In 1914, the first non-direct blood transfusion was performed.

WWII gave scientists and surgeons the necessary motivation to further improve transfusions. Thousands of wounded soldiers were saved thanks to blood donations. The success of these transfusions led doctors to insist on more blood banking in the US, so that a steady supply of blood could be used regularly in hospitals.

Screening for a blood donor.

Screening for a blood donor.

Blood Donation and Plasma Donation

The first blood banking system was established in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. In 1937, the first US blood bank hospital was opened in Chicago. More community blood banks were opened across the country soon afterwards.

Breakthroughs in blood research of this period included the discovery of the Rhesus blood group, and the knowledge that blood could be divided into red cells and plasma. By storing the components of blood separately, the blood could be kept longer, which helped blood banks meet supply and demand needs.

Over the decades since, many improvements have been made. Better anticoagulants were discovered, which greatly improved shelf-life. Collection materials and techniques have changed to ensure safe and easy donation and storage processes. Blood screening tests eliminated the transmission of deadly diseases to recipients.

Blood Statistics

  • 16 million blood donations are collected in the US each year.
  • Over 44,000 donations are needed daily: roughly every 2 seconds.
  • People with certain diseases may require almost daily transfusions.
  • Type-O negative blood can be given to any recipient.
  • The adult body has about 10 pints of blood.
  • Only 7% of US citizens have O-negative blood.
  • AB-negative plasma can be transfused to any recipient

Types of Blood Donation

There are four types of blood donation used by the Red Cross:

  • Whole blood
  • Plasma
  • Platelets
  • Double red cells.

Whole Blood--This is when a pint of whole blood is donated. Later the blood will be divided into it's four transfusable components.

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Plasma--During plasma donation, the blood is collected by a machine that removes the plasma, then returns the other components to the body of the donor.

Platelet--Platelet donation is also done by apheresis (using a machine). Platelet and plasma collection are usually done simultaneously, with the red cells and extra platelets being returned to the donors body.

Double Red Cells--During double red cell donation, a machine removes only red blood cells and returns plasma and platelets to the donor's body. Double red cell donors are required to meet weight/height criteria in order to donate.

Who Uses Donated Blood?

  • Premature babies
  • Leukemia patients
  • Cancer patients
  • Victims of severe injuries
  • Transplant recipients
  • Certain surgical patients
  • People with certain diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia
  • Patients with postpartum hemorrhage
  • Soldiers

What Happens To Donated Blood?

After the blood leaves the donors body, it will be labeled, stored, and possible transported. Once it reaches it's destination, the blood will be processed. Blood will be spun in a centrifuge to separate the blood components.

After this, the tubes will be sent to a laboratory for extensive testing. The blood will be typed, and if proven to be disease free, it go on to be stored in large refrigeration units.

Red cells can be stored for 42 days, and plasma can be stored for up to 1 year. Platelets however, can only be stored at room temperature, and must be used within 5 days.

Next, if needed, the blood will be sent to a hospital. From there it will be given to a recipient with a compatible blood type.

Donation Types and Requirements

Figures are from the American Red Cross

Type of DonationFrequencyPer Year

Whole blood

Every 56 days



Every 7 days

24 times per year


Every 28 days

13 times per year

Double Red Cells

Every 112 days

3 times per year

Interesting Blood Facts

Did you know that blood contains 4 transfusable components? These are: Red blood cells, platelets, plasma, and cryoprecipitate.

Since two or three of these can be used per pint of donated blood, each single pint of donated blood can go to save 3 lives!

More interesting facts about blood:

  • The human body holds roughly 10 pints of blood.
  • Approximately one pint of blood is drawn for a donation.
  • Type O-negative blood can be given to any recipient. It has the highest demand.
  • Donating blood only takes 10-12 minutes after registration and physical.
  • Plasma can be frozen for up to a year.

Donating Blood?

Benefits of Blood Donation

Before the true nature of disease and the importance of blood was fully understood, physicians would recommend bleeding a patient to cure them of various illnesses. Even though that sounds barbaric to us now, the old doctors may have had the right idea.

Recent studies have shown that regularly donating blood can increase a person's overall health. Donating blood helps to reduce excessive iron stores. This in turn reduces the chance of free-radicals forming in the body.

There has also been some research into blood donation and it's positive effect on cardiac health, obesity, and other disorders. While these studies are as yet inconclusive, there is still the overwhelming emotional benefit of knowing that by donating, you are saving the life of another human being.

Donor Exclusions

People who may not be able to donate include those who are:

  • Pregnant
  • Underweight
  • Anemic
  • Have certain diseases
  • Take certain prescriptions
  • Use illegal drugs
  • Engage in risky activities
  • Have autoimmune disorders


Not everyone is qualified to donate blood. People with certain conditions or people taking certain medications may not be allowed to donate.

Check with your doctor to make sure you are physically healthy enough to donate, and contact your local blood donation center for any regulations about weight, height, or medications. You can also have your blood pre-tested to check for any rare blood disorders.

Remember, donating blood is about saving lives. Be honest with medical professionals. They will judge whether or not you are qualified to donate blood without risking your life or a blood recipient's life.


dochints on July 10, 2018:

very well written, in the same way you can info on Eye donation.

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on May 12, 2013:

Thanks SaraJane! I I think it is pretty cool that it is good for our health too. Kudos you for donating, and thanks for commenting!

SaraJane on May 12, 2013:

Wow. Fascinating stuff. i didn't know giving blood could be good for your health. All the more reason to give. I donate at school all the time.

kjforce from Florida on March 14, 2013:

Sharkye11..sorry for the typo on your name when I made the aboce comment...and you are welcome for the info...have a great day

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on March 14, 2013:

@kj force--Thank you. I edited to add a section about people who might not be able to donate. I did know about the sticky blood (my dad draws blood for a living), but I didn't think of it when writing the hub. There are quite a few cases in this area, so it is important that it be included. Thanks for the reminder and the comment!

kjforce from Florida on March 13, 2013:

Sharkey11... Very well researched article and helpful and very interesting...

Just thought I would share with you a little known fact...Antibodies are produced by the body's immune system to fight infection from bacteria and viruses. In some diseases, the immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack the body's own tissues. The result is an autoimmune disease, antiphospholipid syndrome, commonly called "sticky blood "...many are not aware they even have it,so before donating it is always a good idea to have your blood tested first..just a thought..

have a great Wednesday...

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