Donating blood

Graham Clements
I wanted to donate blood but thought I couldn't because of my illnesses. I checked the Red Cross Blood Service's website and still was not sure. I rang the Blood Service and was told I needed a letter from my doctor before I could give blood. The Blood Service helps people with disabilities to give blood. Australian Sign Language interpreters can be available. Guide dogs are welcome. People who use wheelchairs can donate if they can safely transfer to a couch. Some people cannot donate because it might be dangerous for their health. The Blood Service recommends people book a time to donate.
Posted by: 
Graham Clements on 23/05/2012
A woman sitting upright giving blood with a nurse by her side.
blood donation

You might be able to give blood.

Recently I decided to find out if I could donate blood. I have ulcerative colitis and type–two diabetes. I thought either one could make me ineligible to donate.

Blood Service's website

My first step was to log onto the Red Cross Blood Service's website. There I completed an online quiz to find out if I was eligible to give blood. The quick quiz asked questions like my age and whether I had a heart condition. To my surprise I passed the quiz.

I then looked at the website's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). My ulcerative colitis regularly causes diarrhoea. The FAQ said people who have had diarrhoea should wait one to four weeks before giving blood. So it seemed I could give blood when my ulcerative colitis was not active.

Can people with diabetes donate?

The FAQ said it was okay for diabetics to donate if they had not used bovine-based insulin. Their diabetes also had to be under control. I had not used insulin, but I was not sure what under control meant.

I rang the Blood Service. They said they needed a letter from my doctor saying it was okay for me to donate. They said giving blood might harm my health if my diabetes was not under control.

Donating if you have a disability

I started to wonder if there might be any obstacles for people with a disability who might want to give blood. I contacted the Blood Service's media person Erin Lagoudakis. I also visited the blood donation centre in Melbourne at 360 Bourke Street and talked to the manager Renee Hardwick.

Vision impairment

Seeing eye dogs are welcome at blood centres. Renee told me they had a donor who came in with her guide dog. Before giving blood every donor must fill in a questionnaire. A sample copy is available on the Blood Service's website.

Blood Service staff can read the questionnaire out to people with a vision impairment and help them fill it in. A person with a vision impairment should tell the Blood Service of their needs when booking an appointment.

Hearing impairment

Before a donor gives blood they are interviewed. Some of the questions asked can be of a sensitive nature. The Blood Service therefore recommends not using a family member as an Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreter. An Auslan interpreter can be provided if one is requested when booking an appointment. Otherwise a staff member can write down the interview questions and the donor can write down their replies.

People with limited mobility

Blood cannot be donated while sitting in a wheelchair. This is due to potential risks if the donor faints. The Blood Service's couches are designed to safely lower a person from a sitting to lying position. This means donors must be able to safely transfer themselves onto the blood centre's couches. A donor with low mobility or who uses a wheelchair should ask about accessibility when making an appointment. They can then be directed to a centre with good access.

The Bourke Street blood donor centre has a wheelchair accessible lift from street level. Renee said the centre is about to be renovated and made more accessible for wheelchairs. The centre also has an accessible restroom.

Other disabilities

According to the website's FAQ, people taking antidepressants can generally give blood. Most people who have had cancer and have been free of it for five years can donate. People with epilepsy can donate if they have been seizure free for three years. People with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders should contact the Blood Service before donating.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) cannot donate as the causes of the illness are unknown. People with diseases that involve the blood production system like leukaemia also cannot donate.

The reason for disallowing blood donations is often due to the potential health effects on the blood donor, not to their blood being tainted.

Erin recommends those who are unsure of whether they can donate to contact the Blood Service's medical centre on phone number 131 495. There they can talk to qualified medical specialists. So once I get my diabetes under control and my ulcerative colitis is not active I will be able to donate blood.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service

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