What happens to your donation next?

By Annabel Coxon, NZBS Communications Coordinator

It’s all hands on deck when I arrive in the lab. Ma Watene, a Medical Laboratory Technician specialising in Component Processing at our Epsom lab in Auckland, is my guide for the afternoon. Today we’re following the journey of a platelet donation, which has just been hand-delivered to our laboratory staff in the Component Processing lab after our lovely donor has donated and enjoyed a coffee and chocolate biscuit or two.

The first step, Ma shows me, is to note the time the unit arrived in the lab and ‘receipt’ it. It’s the first of many times I see every detail about the donation meticulously checked and recorded in the computer system. In this way, New Zealand Blood Service can track a donation right from a donor’s arm through to the moment the patient in hospital receives their transfusion.

Lab Technician, Ma

Lab Technician, Ma

Ma then weighs the bag on a special scale, which not only prints out a label with the weight on it, but also records this weight in the system. Why do we need to weigh the donation? Depending on its weight and how concentrated the donation is, the bag may be split into two or even three separate units, which can each go on to help save a life.

Calculating the platelet count sounds impossible to me, as one drop of blood contains many millions of platelets! But Ma takes me over to a very futuristic-looking machine, which lifts and twirls the test tube sample and has the work done in just a few moments. Once again, everything is recorded carefully. The test tube has a barcode with a unique number, which is used to record the test results in the system.

With the weight and the platelet count measured, it’s time to evenly distribute the platelets between two or three bags, maximising the surface area to allow the platelets to breathe more easily. This, Ma tells me, is what those in the know call ‘equalising’.

The last step of the day is to place the donation into the ‘platelet agitator’, which gently rocks it from side to side constantly, to keep the platelets oxygenated. The bags will keep moving until the test tubes have been fully tested and the results are in.
Day two is when the donation is ‘bac t’d’ (as the scientists say!), or undergoes ‘bacterial testing’. After this final round of testing, it is weighed again and the platelet count calculated.

Only when all the results are ready and the donation is declared fit for use (i.e. all infectious disease tests are negative) can it come out of quarantine and continue its journey. Platelets can only be stored for seven days, so as soon as the donation has been tested and accredited, it is taken - rocking all the way - to the hospital blood bank. There it is issued to a patient on the ward, perhaps going on to help treat someone with severe bleeding or leukaemia. Everyone, from the donor and lab staff through to the blood bank staff and healthcare professionals at the other end, have helped a person in need, saving or improving someone’s life.

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