BY SUSAN KEETER
“What if you could do one thing on Monday that might save a cancer patient’s life on Wednesday?” That’s the message from a Red Cross video encouraging platelet donation.
I’ve donated blood since high school but learned about platelet donation just a few weeks ago when I got an email appeal from the American Red Cross. Platelets are the cells that help form blood clots and control bleeding. They’re clear, and a bag of them is caramel-colored. For years, my mother-in-law needed platelets for treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition that can occur when the blood-forming cells in bone marrow are damaged.
What I didn’t know then was that I could have donated platelets that would have helped her or someone else with a blood disorder, cancer or an organ transplant.
Donating platelets takes longer than a standard whole-blood donation (about two hours for the donation, plus the time for registration, etc.) and usually requires needles in both arms, which restricts movement. But, when I donated platelets, I was relaxing on a recliner, covered in a blanket, watching a movie. The 2½ to three hours needed for a platelet donation seems time well spent, given that every 30 seconds someone in the United States needs platelets. Platelets are delicate and must be used within five days, but individuals can donate them every seven days.
It’s an impressive process. At the Red Cross’ Liverpool Blood Donation Center on Oswego Road, three walls of a warehouse-sized room are lined with reclining chairs, and an apheresis machine sits between each set of chairs. The donor’s blood goes into the machine in tubes and is spun by a centrifuge to separate the red and white cells, platelets and plasma. The platelets go into a pint bag for donation, and the red blood cells go back into the donor’s veins.
Of course, whole-blood donation is a lifesaving gift, as well, and Upstate University Hospital makes it easy to donate. Upstate offers blood drives as many as eight times a year at both its downtown and Community campuses, and several times at other sites, including the Upstate Bone and Joint Center.
With a whole-blood donation, a pint of blood is collected, and the components — red and white cells, platelets and plasma — are separated afterward for use. Individuals can donate whole blood every 56 days.
Check out Upstate’s schedule of blood drives. If none of those dates works for you, go to the Red Cross website, type in your ZIP code and search for blood drives that are convenient for you. Blood drives are held throughout the community at places like schools, churches, shopping malls and hospitals, including Upstate. You can also use the Red Cross site for details on scheduling a platelet donation.