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October 06, 2005

Stepping Up to the Plate(let)

As I mentioned when I discussed the National Marrow Donor Program in a previous entry, I'm a regular blood donor at the Blood Bank of Hawaii. I think at last count I've given three gallons (24 units) over the past ten years. And I keep getting called back.

There are three reasons why I seem to be such a popular person with the BBH recruitment staff. One, I have O positive blood, the universal donor, which is always in high demand. Second, my blood is CMV negative, which means that it has special applications in treating immune-suppressed patients and very young babies. And third, I also have a rare blood type (to the tune of one in about 10,000 people) that is also in demand. Put those together, and I really should have a standing appointment with them every eight weeks.

But often I don't, and it's partly because of the way my body reacts to a whole blood donation. Actually, everything is fine when I donate; I hardly ever bruise, and my veins are in good shape. It's what happens afterward. I find that it sharply reduces my oxygen capacity to the point where a hard workout leaves me short of breath, and it takes me a couple of weeks to fully regain my ability to run hard.

So when they called me in a week or two ago, I decided, for practical training reasons, that I'd try giving platelets instead of whole blood. They transferred me to the apheresis department, where they gave me the lowdown on platelet donation and why it's also important.

Basically, platelets are needed mostly by cancer patients (and blood cancer patients in particular), whose own platelets are often destroyed by chemotherapy, and most definitely during bone marrow transplants. It takes six whole blood donors to produce enough platelets for one dose. One donor going through the apheresis process can produce the same amount, in a little more time.

So I went through the process on Wednesday. I answered the standard questions that need to be answered every time any blood components are donated, and was escorted to the apheresis unit of the blood bank.

One thing that I noticed right away is how comfortable they make you feel. After all, you've got a needle stuck in you, and as a result you can't really move much for about 45 minutes to an hour, so you're basically treated like a king or queen. They're quick to give you blankets when you get chilled (which is part of the process).

I was especially struck by the state-of-the-art machine that was used to separate out the platelets. It's all computerized...punch in my size and estimated platelet count and it calculates about how long I'd have to stay attached to the machine to get the necessary amount of platelets. From there it's all automatic...the machine draws the blood, centrifuges it, separates out the platelets, and sends it all back, all through the same needle. It took a while for me to get used to the machine and pump out enough blood to keep up with it, but soon got the hang of it.

In all, I spent about half an hour on the machine, doing some reading and listening to music while the machine was doing its thing. And then, it was over. And it felt good.

I was even able to run a light workout that day with no ill effects.

This might become a habit for me. Yet another way to help cancer patients. I'll definitely go back to giving whole blood when the season is over, but platelets are definitely a viable alternative. I'll definitely do it again.

Posted by Keith at October 6, 2005 07:53 PM

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