Many blood donors think once blood is removed from their arms, it's whisked away to hospitals for immediate use, says Jim Barringer, a district manager American Red Cross Blood Services in Medford.

"But in truth, blood goes through an extensive and expensive process before it's distributed to hospitals," he said.

Blood begins its journey at either a collection center or during a mobile blood drive. Staff collect about a pint of blood, along with three samples for safety testing.

Barringer said the blood is kept on ice and a courier picks up blood every night at 9 p.m. from Medford's Blood Center and drives it to Portland's processing laboratory near the airport.

The laboratory conducts at least 12 safety tests, which take about two days to process.

Christina Dunlap, a Medford Red Cross territory representative, said the laboratory tests for HIV, hepatitis, Avian Bird Flue and West Nile Virus, among other things.

Another test measures antigens, which can indicate the possibility of certain cancers.

"If a blood sample tests positive for anything serious, we'd notify the donor that they should seek medical attention," she said.

Healthy blood is divided up into three components.

The first component, red blood cells, is filtered, refrigerated and has a shelf life of 42 days.

The second, plasma, is flash frozen and can be stored for one year.

The final, platelets, is kept at room temperature, continually agitated and can only last for five days.

According to the Red Cross Web site, an accident victim could use anywhere from four to 40 units of red blood cells, depending on the severity of the injury. A male patient in Portland undergoing a liver transplant used 100 units of plasma, 40 units of red blood cells and 13 units of platelets.

Dunlap said that if any of the components are found not to be safe, they are destroyed. But once deemed safe, the bags are labeled with the donor's blood type and moved to the distribution area of the center.

Dunlap said many people are surprised to learn that their one donation can help up to three people.

Ashland donors might also find it interesting that their blood donation not only could save lives in southern Oregon, but also as far away as southern Washington and southeastern Alaska, she said.

Ashland Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman donated blood for the first at a mobile unit in the city's facilities parking lot on Wednesday afternoon.

She had no idea the processes involved in preparing blood for transfusions. "My only hope is that my blood will help somebody. It's an easy and simple way to give back to people who need it."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 or .

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