One teaspoon can save a baby’s life

Baby blood donors provide whole blood and platelets for specific patients, frequently on very short notice. Over 170 pediatric heart surgeries and other special procedures are conducted annually at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center.

There are two types of Baby Blood Donors; ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) and Pedis (Pediatric Heart Surgeries).


Blood collected for our ECMO Baby Blood Program is O negative. The need for O negative blood is understandable because it is the universal donor for red cells. Our ECMO baby blood is collected every Monday and Thursday. We partner with Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and provide them with a specific number of units each week so there is an adequate number of units available if needed.

Learn more about the ECMO procedure here.


When a pediatric heart surgery is scheduled at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, a request is phoned in to CRBS for specific blood products for those pint-sized patients. Blood collected for our Pedis is collected as needed and the blood type is specific to the patient.

Our Schedulers then phone potential donors to inform you of this critical need and ask that you donate on the date needed.  Collection dates are specific to each surgery, as these units must be collected within a certain time frame.

You may be asked to donate either whole blood or platelets through our automation system. These donations are then tested and set aside for that child’s surgery.

Typically pedis are collected on Thursdays; however, over the past several months our need has greatly increased, due to Seattle Children’s Hospital patients being transported to Mary Bridge. Because of these additional surgeries, we have been collecting pedis on other days of the week as well.  On occasion we need donors to come in for same day appointments, and other times we need donors to wait a day or two before they donate. Collections are all dependent on the need of the hospitals.

While every attempt is made to locate donors with the child’s exact blood type, sometimes the urgency of the surgery or the rarity of the patient’s blood type will force the hospital to ask for the O-Negative blood type, which is the universal blood type and can be transfused to all blood types.


Most people could potentially become a baby blood donor. There is no magic potion. It is a group of dedicated folks who take the time to give lifesaving blood products to these tiny patients.

If you are a blood donor, the three most important things you can do are:

  1. Answer the call
  2. Make an appointment
  3. Keep the appointment
  4. Repeat

If you have not donated blood in the past, make an appointment to donate so we can determine your blood type. After that, follow the steps above.

Mary Bridge relies on Cascade Regional Blood Services to consistently supply blood for surgeries and emergency situations. And we rely on our baby blood donors to be reliable and make a commitment to keep their scheduled appointments.

Please call a Donor Specialist at 1-877-24-BLOOD for additional information.

Baby Blood in the Real World

You have seen the phrase “One teaspoon of blood can save a baby’s life” around our Donor Centers. We asked the NICU manager at Tacoma General Hospital to tell us more about how donors help save babies’ lives.

“We save babies as young as 23 weeks gestation, or 17 weeks premature. These babies weigh around 500 grams, or 1.1 pounds.  Our tiny babies require frequent blood transfusions, mostly because of the frequent laboratory tests done to check their clinical status.  The blood we take for lab tests depletes the newborns of enough blood that they then need transfusions.

“On our smallest babies, we transfuse 10−15 milliliters of packed red blood cells. That is two to three teaspoons of blood. Those few teaspoons of blood give them the increase in hematocrit and total volume that keeps them strong enough to continue the fight for survival. While rare, we have seen transfusions for volumes as low as 6 milliliters, or about one teaspoon.”

Many babies need blood that is free of Cytomegalovirus, a virus that many people carry. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 50 to 80 percent of American adults will have the virus by the time they are 40. It generally does not affect healthy children and adults, but can cause serious issues for babies and people with weakened immune systems. Because CMV negative blood is rare, we have a special baby blood program to collect the blood to treat babies who need transfusions.  These special units must be collected within five days of the scheduled surgery.

Blood donors truly do save lives. Thank you for your dedication to donating blood and our community blood supply.