Demystifying the process of vital blood and platelet donations

By Susan Blood

A few weeks ago there was a short article in The Citizen about donating blood and platelets. Apparently, the cold weather and slippery roads have led to fewer folks heading out to donate blood. Most people know what giving whole blood is like. It’s a quick health screening followed by taking a pint of blood from whichever arm you prefer. According to the Red Cross, the actual time spent donating blood is about 10 minutes.

I would like to shed light on platelet donations, both what platelets are needed for and the procedure for giving them. Platelets are the part of our blood that makes it clot. Cancer patients need platelets because treatments lead to reduced levels of platelet production. Because they help with clotting, low platelet levels can result in increased risk for bleeding or infections.

I started donating platelets a little more than a year ago and it would never have occurred to me to start but my mother-in-law, Lillian, gave platelets in New Jersey. My mother gave blood when I was growing up, and I wanted to renew my commitment to help in this easy and satisfying way.

Platelets are separated from the rest of your blood using an apheresis machine which they only have at the Red Cross Center in Burlington.

When you make an appointment online, you will get an email the day of the donation asking you to answer health questions online using their Rapid Pass system. This shortens the health screening to about 10 minutes and in that time a very competent phlebotomist will check your blood pressure, pulse, and iron level as well as ask a few final questions.

Then it’s on to the back of the center where there are about eight special chairs, – actually more like loungers – for platelet donors. The same person who performed the health screening will get you set up for your donation. I donate using both arms but some people use one. I’ve never asked why but using both arms is fine for me. Whole blood comes out of one arm which is then spun in the machine to gather the platelets. The rest of my blood comes back to me through my other arm.

The donation time varies from person to person but for me, it usually takes about an hour and 45 minutes. One of the reasons I love giving platelets is that they set you up with a tablet device and you can watch anything on Netflix. Over my first five sessions last year, I watched Season 1 of “The Crown.”

The staff at the center are friendly and helpful. They make sure I’m warm enough and check in every now and then. While you are donating, you can check a monitor that lets you know how far along you are in the process. And when it gets to 100 percent, you’re done! They remove both needles and put a Band-Aid on each arm, sometimes with some red bandage to hold them in place.

After sitting without moving for that long, I’m always a little stiff, but I make my way to the canteen for snacks. This is my other favorite part of donating blood –  They always have a good assortment of snacks and cranberry juice, which is my favorite. From start to finish, my visit takes about two and a half hours.

If you’ve never donated blood, start with giving whole blood. It is needed just as much as platelets and it can be given at any blood drive. And if you’re interested in trying to give platelets, I’d encourage you to do it. After a few times, you’ll get to know the crew in the back of the Red Cross and be part of a new community.

If you have questions, the Burlington Red Cross website has lots of information.
Giving blood or platelets takes time, but there is no substitute for platelets from humans and we could all need them at some point in our lives.

The website for the Red Cross in Burlington is

Susan Blood lives in Charlotte.

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