Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A New Experience: Saving Lives, One Platelet at a Time

I've been a regular blood donor since I was 17. Pretty hardcore about it, for a while there - I have multiple gallon pins, a few Hoxworth water bottles, blood donor patches, a donor hoodie, and a wardrobe of college blood drive t-shirts. Real hardcore.

Then I got pregnant, and stopped giving blood for obvious reasons. Then I was breastfeeding, and too paranoid to risk taking the hit to my supply. Then I just got out of the habit. I gave when it was convenient, at a few mobile blood drives here and there, but then I started running and became kind of selfish - I didn't want to get lightheaded and feel run-down. In my defense, I've been anemic for 15+ years and losing those red blood cells has always affected me more than most people. But that's not a good enough excuse. Even my Running Buddy puts me to shame with her donation frequency. It's not like I'm going to win any medals, or anything - what's some extra time on the clock?

And then, two weeks ago, I got an email from The Running Spot talking about the big citywide blood drive and specifically mentioning that donating platelets is a good option for athletes. I did my own side research, and it's true! Not only does it leave your red blood cells alone, but the matter that they take from you during a platelet donation regenerates within hours, rather than weeks. So that's all well and good, but donating platelets is SCARY! I'm not going to lie, I was TERRIFIED. Even after donating a million pints of blood, I still got anxious every time. The idea of donating platelets where they're not just taking stuff from one arm, but then also GIVING IT BACK in the other, just makes me shudder. Cue more research, where I learned that they can now do it using only one of your arms and that the needle is actually smaller than the one that they use for whole blood donations. So I decided to go for it.

Am I the only one who finds the graphic/slogan combination a little creepy looking?

In case you're not familiar with platelets and platelet donation, here's a quick summary:

During platelet donation, a small portion of blood (about 1/4 pint at a time), is drawn from your arm and passed through a sophisticated cell-separating machine. The machine collects the platelets and safely returns the remaining blood components, along with some saline, back to you.

A single platelet donation can provide enough platelets for a full therapeutic dose for a patient in need. In fact, some platelet donations yield enough platelets for two or three therapeutic doses. By contrast, it takes four to six whole blood donations to produce a single therapeutic dose.

Many patients who need platelets are undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplant and have weakened immune systems. A platelet dose from a single donor reduces the patient’s exposure to multiple donors and is therefore preferred by many physicians.

I was nervous, nervous, nervous driving down to the big city-wide blood drive. I was shaking like a leaf and side-eying the giant centrifuge machine as I climbed into the chair. Those things are gigantic! The technician staffing the apheresis area, George, was really nice and helpful. He showed me all of the equipment and explained how everything worked. I got a very detailed rundown of exactly what to expect, how long it would take, and what it would feel like. He set up the machine, hooked up the bag, and started the process, and then went the extra mile by entertaining me for the next 90 minutes while we waited for the collection to finish. He let me watch the monitors so that I could see what was going on and showed me how cool it looked when the platelets got sucked up into the plasma bag - it was really neat, all swirly like mixing oil and vinegar.

I'm not trying to say that it was all puppy dogs and rainbows. It took a while - 90 minutes is a long time - the first time is the longest because the machine isn't calibrated specifically to your counts, but even after that it's still a time commitment. The feeling of having the red cells and saline put back in was pretty bizarre - not painful, just a little uncomfortable until you got used to it. The worst part was probably the mouth tingles - the anti-coagulant they use in the return solution binds with calcium to do its job, so it makes your mouth and nose feel tingly after a while (thanks again to George for the technical explanations!). They had a giant supply of tums on hand to combat the ickiness, but it was still rather uncomfortable.

When all is said and done, it wasn't that bad, I was really glad I had decided to give it a try, and I'm definitely planning to go back and do it again. You can go every three weeks, although if they test your cells and find that you're an exact match for a patient in the database, they can ask if you'll do it more often. The women in the chair next to me (who happened to be the kids programming director for the Flying Pig!) went every day for a week when they found that she was a match for a leukemia patient.

So think about it. Even if platelets isn't up your alley, think about giving whole blood. See? I'm even smiling! I even got a Flying Pig duffel bag and a $10 gift card to the Running Spot. Can't beat that!


  1. You forgot to mention the best feeling - knowing you are helping some one.  I've never done it.  I have donated over a gallon of blood over the years but I stopped awhile back.  I once had a minor auto accident on the way back from donating.  I think it was related.

  2. 90 minutes?!!! HOLY CRAP! I got uncomfortable in the 10 mins it took to give whole blood (I started to feel the needle). I don't think I could handle 90 minutes of that feeling. That's a whole other type of marathon you should get a medal for!

  3. I give whole blood...same story as you -- started in HS, continued throughout college and up until I got pregnant. I started giving again about two years ago. I consider it my good deed for the day. :)

  4. Hey, good for you!! I've never thought about donating platelets, actually, but I've done the aphresis machine before - I did a double red cell donation once. (I tried other times, but you need a higher red cell count than for whole blood, and that was the only time I made the cut for it. I don't weigh enough anymore to do a double, which is ok. :)) I've been putting off donating lately because I want to be in tip-top shape for the marathon, and it does put a very noticeable dent in my running for about a week. Hard to handle that with the loooong runs, so I get that selfish feeling totally. I may ask about platelets next time I go in.

    PS - a big motivation for me is the mini oreos they always have at Hoxworth. LOVE those things!

  5. Yeah, 90 freaking minutes! The needle was a lot smaller, it didn't really bother me too much.

  6. I don't meet the weight limit for doubles, and given that I sometimes have trouble meeting the iron requirement for regular, I doubt they'd let me try.

    Want to go do platelets with me after the race?

  7. Yes! As far as good deeds go, it's pretty far reaching. Plus, you get snacks when it's over :)

  8. Absolutely. The least I can do is share my health with those less fortunate.

  9. Awesome!! I haven't given since I got pregnant with Colin because I keep being either pregnant or nursing! Can't wait til I can give again!

  10. Sure!!!

    I don't meet the weight requirement NOW. Used to, before I stepped up the running!

    Eat a big cheeseburger the day before you donate. :)

  11. If by creepy, you mean "best emblem ever", then no, you're not the only one :)



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