Friday, December 30, 2016

Why You Should Donate Platelets

I have given blood regularly for a few years now.  They love my blood because my veins are AWESOME (one phlebotomist described them as "garden hoses") and because I have a high hemoglobin.  Donating blood is awesome and I encourage everyone to do so.  But I am going to advocate that you donate platelets. 

I have the American Red Cross donor app which lets me know where my donated blood goes.  Most recently, my blood donations have gone into storage.  Which is awesome, because it means that there is so much blood out there that it can be stored. 

Platelets are a little different. Platelets are a component of whole blood. They help with clotting and stop bleeding. They are critical for trauma patients and for cancer patients.  Platelets only last five days, and someone needs platelets every 30 seconds.  I witness someone every day at the trauma center who needs platelets in order to survive. That's why I have decided to donate platelets instead of whole blood. 

I had a lot of questions about donating platelets, so I thought I would blog about my experience in order to get more people to donate.

Platelet donations require a special machine, called a blood cell separator, so you have to go to special centers, either at blood banks or at hospitals.  You usually feel better after platelet donation than whole blood donations, because they give you IV fluids to replace the plasma that they have taken out of your arms.  When donating blood, you just get blood taken away and it takes your body approximately 60 days to replace the lost blood.

Before you begin donating, you go through a brief interview process to determine if you are medically eligible to donate.  Also, your hemoglobin is tested with a small finger stick. If both of these things are clear, you are moved to a recliner next to the machine. 

Both of your arms are used during platelet donation.  The needles used during the platelet donation are much smaller than used during blood donation. One needle pumps blood out of your arm and into the machine.  The other needle returns sterile saline, along with red blood cells back to you through the other arm. 

You will receive an anticoagulant (citrate) as well.  Some people have a mild reaction to this, usually a tingling in their mouth or around their lips.  You are preemptively given antacids to counteract the effect of this, as the calcium from the antacid works against the chemical reaction caused by the citrate. You can always have more. 

You will also get kind of chilly during the donation process, as room temperature IV fluids are infused.  The donation center will have lots of warm blankets and heating pads available.  Keeping warm is important not only for comfort, but also because it helps with optimal blood flow in and out of your arms. I brought my own fuzzy blanket and warm socks because I know that hospital blankets are super thin.

The most uncomfortable part of the whole process is that you can't move your arms.  You can watch a movie or take a nap, but you can't really read a book, knit or play on your phone. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts and set them to continuous play.  While its important to be hydrated, don't drink too much because you won't be able to get up and use the bathroom.

It also takes a good amount of time to donate platelets, plan to spend about 3 hours at the donation center.  You can watch the progress of your platelets coming out.  The yellow fluid is plasma and the IV bags behind it are the anticoagulant and the saline.

 The centrifuge that separates the platelets from the blood is located under the counter of the machine.  At the end of the donation process, your platelets will be mixed with the donated plasma.  They will tell you all about this and let you watch as much or as little as you like.

Amy's top ten reasons to donate platelets:

1. They are more critically needed than blood

2. Because of their short shelf-life, they are always kept local

3. You get IV fluids replaced, so you feel great after donation

4. You help patients with cancer, who often can't get treatments if their platelets are too low.

5. You help patients who have experienced a trauma or internal bleeding

6. You get to sit in a comfortable chair for about three hours and watch movies and have nurses bring you juice and snacks

7. You get warm blankets and heating pads

8. Your ONE platelet donation provides the same amount of platelets that could be extracted from FIVE donations of blood

9. The needles are smaller than those used for whole blood

10. You can donate platelets up to 24 times per year, instead of six times per year for whole blood

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