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Giving platelets: A caregiver and donor explains the surprisingly easy process

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120802JenniferM.JPGBy Jennifer Martin

I'm a 33-year-old, stay-at-home mother of two and a caregiver to my husband, Steven, who is battling stage IV melanoma. Following his diagnosis, I've become dedicated to melanoma awareness. I help educate others through blogs, blood drives, participating in melanoma fundraisers and any other way to spread the word. Follow us at martinfamilyjourney.blogspot.com.

My first experience with donating platelets came shortly after my husband Steve, who is battling stage IV melanoma, needed a platelet transfusion. He had just completed round three of biochemotherapy

After a scheduled blood check, we received a call from his nurse letting us know that his platelets were very low. We needed to get to MD Anderson immediately so he could have a platelet transfusion. 

I looked online for information on low platelets. He was at risk for a nose bleed that would not clot, internal bleeding and even a small cut that could possibly kill him. Scary! His doctor ordered four units. 

When we were at the hospital, he was given the platelet transfusion but only three units. When we asked why, we were told that there was a shortage of platelets.

bus.jpgDoing my part
Once I learned this, I wanted to help. I couldn't believe the number of days we had spent at MD Anderson and I had not donated blood or platelets.

The next week Steve was admitted again for round four of biochemotherapy. I was sure to get to the donation center and donate platelets. I was a bit nervous. But, everyone in the donation center made me feel very comfortable. 

First, I was screened and checked in. Screening was quick. It was just a few questions, a couple of signatures, a blood pressure reading and a small prick of the finger to check for low iron. 

After the screening, I was escorted to the donation room. A catheter was inserted into my vein and I was given a stress ball to squeeze for the duration of the donation. 

Having TVs in the room was nice, because the platelet donation process can take up to two hours.  

I didn't feel any pain at all during the process. Blood is pulled out of your body, the platelets are removed from the blood and the rest of the blood is then returned to your body. 

After the donation was complete, my arm was wrapped in a bandage and I was given a donation T-shirt and sent on my way. 

It was so simple. I could not believe I had not done this sooner. 

About platelets:  
  • Per MD Anderson's website, platelets are only good for two days. To give a comparison, red blood cells are good for 42 days. That information alone should show how important platelet donors are.
  • It takes 4-6 whole blood donations to equal one platelet donation. If the platelets have to be pulled from 4-6 whole blood donations and given to a patient, this increases the risks of the patient having a reaction to the platelets.  
  • You can donate platelets every 48 hours, unlike whole blood, which you can only donate once every eight weeks. 
Payback
Blood and platelet donations are very important to me. Steve and I were lucky enough to have a friend set up a mobile blood drive through MD Anderson as a "replacement drive" for the many units of platelets and blood he had received. 

MD Anderson sent out a mobile unit and we had several friends and family show up. We had a total of 47 whole blood donations and six platelet donations.   

Call MD Anderson to set up a blood/platelet drive or stop by to donate. Many people donate blood every year but have never donated platelets or aren't even aware that there is an option to donate platelets. Please help spread the word.

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