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What is a Blood Bank?

Amy Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The blood bank has revolutionized medicine as we know it and saved countless lives all over the world. A blood bank is a place designed especially for the storage of blood and blood products. Large coolers hold these products at a constant temperature and they are available at a moment's notice. This facility stores whole blood, packed red cells, plasma and other blood products. These products are used for trauma patients, surgeries, blood transfusions that treat disease and a host of other applications.

The first blood bank in the United States opened in 1936 in Cook County Hospital in Chicago. They were mostly found in hospitals at first, because they were the only facilities equipped to store large quantities of blood at that time. Later on, Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer in the field of blood transfusion science, helped establish the first American Red Cross blood bank. After that, organizations both public and private began establishing blood banks of their own, and soon, they could be found nationwide.

One blood bank will generally cooperate with another in ferrying blood products where they are most needed. In the days before medical flights were common, state highway patrol officers sometimes found themselves involved in transporting blood. For instance, a "relay" of sorts might be set up between two cities, with one trooper picking up the blood and meeting another trooper halfway along the route, who then transported the blood to either the hospital or to another trooper waiting for the "hand off." With many more cities supporting these facilities and the advent of helicopters, this has become less common.

Most humans are in the ABO blood group. Blood type is determined by which antibodies and antigens the person's blood produces. The most common blood type is O, followed by type A. Type O individuals are often called "universal donors" since their blood can be transfused into persons with any blood type. Those with type AB blood are called "universal recipients" because they can receive blood of any type.

Because types O and A are the most common, the need for these types is often the greatest. Those with the rarer B type may donate more often because they understand the need for the less common types. However, since approximately twice as many people in the general population have O and A blood types, the need for this type of blood increases exponentially.

The American Red Cross is probably the most familiar outlet for blood, and most Americans have heard pleas for blood donors increase during summer or holiday seasons - the times when the need for blood is most critical. Most healthy people can donate blood, and national disasters often bring out those who have never donated before. After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, Americans came out by the thousands to donate blood. Even though it was not needed by the majority of the New York victims, the blood was used throughout the nation to help save lives.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick , Former Writer
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at The Health Board. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.

Discussion Comments

By anon942145 — On Mar 26, 2014

As a blood bank technician, I always implore people to donate because I use those donations every day to save lives.

By jennythelib — On May 20, 2011

I hope everyone who's eligible donates blood as often as they can, but I want to make sure expectant parents hear about another kind of donation--public cord blood banking. The blood from a baby's umbilical cord can be used to treat leukemia and other diseases, kind of like bone marrow.

A lady I work with has a five-year-old son with leukemia who needs a cord blood transplant, but they haven't found him a match yet. Everyone at the office is trying to get the word out because the more people that donate cord blood, the better the chance that he'll get a match--not to mention all the other patients waiting for their match, too.

By MissDaphne — On May 19, 2011

You might not realize that blood can't be stored very long at all. Your local blood bank can't stock up for lean times. When blood supplies get low, hospitals have to cancel non-emergency surgeries.

If you're eligible to donate blood, you can make a point of trying to donate when other people don't, like the article was saying. As an added bonus, local centers sometimes give away t-shirts, movie tickets, and other minor swag during those lean times as a way to draw people in.

Amy Pollick

Amy Pollick

Former Writer

Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at The Health Board...
Learn more
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