Published in Military Voice & Community News May/June edition, 2010
Every other week, I chose to leave comfort of my home to endure a slight inconvenience for a little over an hour in order to save the life of a stranger I will never meet. One more day of life will be given to locals in my area who will never know who I am or why I helped them. After a tragedy, my gift may even be shipped around the world.
An apheresis donation is similar to a whole blood donation. Your blood has four parts: red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma. The red cells carry oxygen around your body, white cells fight infections. Platelets allow your wounds to clot, while the plasma is the fluid that caries all of these cells and more. The apheresis process draws your blood just as with the whole blood cycle. However, the blood is spun in a self-contained, sterile, single-use packaging within a machine. The donation is separated and collected while the rest is returned to you.
Apheresis usually collects either plasma, platelets, or both. I donate platelets. After registering, reading over the medical and travel restrictions, answering a health history questionnaire, and having my blood pressure, temperature, and iron count tested and recorded, I can relax on a comfortable recliner in front a TV offering endless channels or a collection of movies to entertain me. Speakers are even built into my chair so I can listen without headphones if others are also watching a TV. I opt to turn on the heating pad and grab a blanket. Nice and cuddly as I would be in my house, I can enjoy a few shows and save a few lives. Then I am treated to a drink and some sweets. If it’s during a meal time, you might be lucky and able to grab a donation of food brought in from local restaurants. Locations usually have free stuff to choose from as a thank you. I have gotten gas cards, movie tickets, t-shirts, and restaurant vouchers, all donated by local merchants and other sponsors.
I won’t lie; the last thing I want is to be stuck with a needle. I was lucky enough to be blessed with wonderful veins, so I opt for a two arm draw. This also means two needles. Find a comfortable position, a needle prick, and it’s over. Squeeze a squish ball every few seconds to keep the blood flowing and get lost in your movie. Many people chose to use one arm, which takes longer, but allows them to read. I have seen men in business suits reading over memos, Airmen in uniform flipping through military and local newspapers, college kids studying notes before a test, and grandparents taking a break from retired life and enjoying a novel.
You could say such donations are in my blood. My mother and father are lifelong blood donors. Both hate needles, but endure it to help others. I find apheresis much less draining (no pun intended), and I am able to donate more often, two weeks as opposed to 56 days, as the body can replenish the platelets faster than all of the parts which are included in a whole blood donation. Whole blood is able to last slightly longer than platelets, which must be used within five days before they are no longer healthy. I chose apheresis over whole blood because, when the call goes out after a tragedy, many people find the strength to donate blood. But who hears the silent call of a mom suffering with cancer or a child who cannot play with friends because of a debilitating blood disease? Burn victims, leukemia patients, bone marrow transplant recipients, the list is endless.
There are so many personal calls that go unheeded. This is why I make an apheresis donation. I also chose this because so few people know about it or are willing to take the time to help those who suffer every day. Please consider this the next time you are thankful for all that you have.Northwest Florida Blood Center www.nfbcblood.org/
American Red Cross www.redcross.org/