By Y. Hope Osborn, Volunteer Contributor, American Red Cross
The jangle of an old-fashioned telephone prompts me to answer my cell phone. Glancing at the glowing display, I see it is Karen. Karen pleasantly greets me. She asks to schedule a time for me to donate platelets. I am well and rested, so I make an appointment.
Apheresis Recruiters, like Karen, call a great number of people every day, asking them to give a little of themselves by donating platelets through a special process. The special process, called apheresis, allows you to safely give blood components in large amounts.
Platelets are one of four parts that make up blood. Red cells, white cells, and plasma are the other three parts. Platelets keep us from bleeding excessively, clotting at the site of wounds. Eradicating cancer in patients also eradicates platelets, so part of treating someone for cancer includes replenishing their platelets. American Red Cross blood centers accept and process blood platelets from donors to supply hospitals treating patients.
Donors donate for their own surgeries. Donors donate for family members who are sick. And donors donate to help people they don’t know. They help save lives.
Patients, like Maddie, who has cancer. Treated at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for her third reoccurrence of cancer, eleven-year old Maddie needed five units of red blood cells and three units of platelets a week. Some of the people Karen called requested to donate specifically to Maddie.
Some days I donate. I simply drive to my local Red Cross Blood Center*, park in spaces reserved for donors, and walk through the doors. A volunteer helps me check in on a small laptop, confirming my name, contact information, and appointment. The volunteer asks me to read from a binder about various things I need to know as a donor and about various conditions and medications that keep me from giving. These details are important for my safety and for the safety of the recipient of the platelets.
As I wait, I gaze at the green top hats hanging from the ceiling, pots of gold depicted on green pennant banners draped against the walls, and a green paper shamrock sitting on a table with individual-sized bags of cookies and crackers and a platter of chocolate-chip and sugar sprinkled cookies. I have seen hanging red and white hearts, draping, twisted red and green crepe paper, or standing brown, red, and gold paper turkeys. I know the seasonal decorations are just the first impression of the warm and gracious people who appreciatively aid in my donation process.
After a little while, a specialist beckons me to follow him to a small private room to answer a series of questions regarding my health and the conditions—the ones I read about in the binder—and give a pin prick of blood, my temperature, and blood pressure, confirming I am well.
To pass the time while donating, the apheresis specialist offers me a vast selection of popular movies. They set a portable DVD player with headphones on a pillow on my lap. As I watch Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman kick butt in Red or Nicholas Cage hunt for historic and elusive treasure in National Treasure, I only think of the apheresis to intermittently squeeze a soft rubber ball in the hand of the needled arm to keep everything flowing smoothly and to consider if I feel well. If I am cold, they cover me in warm blankets.
A sprightly older woman checks in for her appointment to donate blood and sits down with me. We talk. I wonder why she is here today, donating blood. She has the most surprising answer.
Terri is there simply because the Red Cross volunteer she met the previous week asked her to be. The surprise is she met this Red Cross volunteer at the site of an apartment fire–her own apartment fire, and the volunteer didn’t ask her to be at the Center to donate blood but to pick up a debit card.
Terri tells me Red Cross volunteers at her fire asked her if she had a place to stay the night, ready to provide financial assistance to help with temporary lodging. The volunteers also gave her a few toiletries and offered her a debit card if she stopped by the Red Cross Center.
Terri is at the Center picking up the debit card. And she thinks, days after her apartment burned down, Why don’t I donate blood while I am here?
I am reminded that the Red Cross does more than just collect blood and platelets; they also help people during difficult times, such as a house fire.
Millions of donors give millions of units of blood products nationwide each year, saving countless lives. With donors’ help, the Red Cross collects and processes over 40% of the blood supply that is distributed to 3,000 hospitals and transfusion centers nationwide. That collection process starts with manual laborers, high school students, retirees, and apheresis specialists at the Center and continues through testing, storing, and distributing foremost to local hospitals and furthermore to wherever there is patient need.
have finished the process of donating platelets, the specialist wraps my arm in a bright red compression bandage to staunch the flow of blood and graciously thanks me, encouraging me to replenish my body by drinking plenty of fluids and eating a snack, starting with the cookies, crackers, chocolate milk, sodas, water, and juice offered as I rest a few minutes at the refreshments table. The volunteer who greeted me when I first came in keeps an eye on me to make sure I am okay. I am naturally tired, but the good kind of tired that comes from giving of myself.
*Platelets can only be donated at certain donation centers and cannot be donated at blood drives. To locate your nearest donation center or blood drive, visit redcross.org/give-blood.