I first gave blood when I was in college. There was a blood drive at the campus center, and a bunch of us decided to roll up our sleeves for the little old lady volunteers from the Red Cross. They gave us bologna sandwiches afterwards. Some of the frat brothers thought it would be hysterically funny to get drunk right after giving blood. I wasn't that brave, but I was absolutely naive. I went on a hot-tubbing date that night and passed out.
Later, married and settled into a largely non-drinking, non-hot-tubbing lifestyle, I began donating blood on a regular basis at the local community blood center. (Here's a link, in case you're local.) I went to college pre-AIDS, and pre-mad cow disease, when no one asked extensive questions about donors' personal lives and health histories. Now, there's a fairly lengthy questionnaire I have to fill out every single time. They ask about AIDS and mad cow disease, but also about things like piercings and tattoos. You have to live your life pretty much on the straight and narrow to be a successful blood donor these days.
After I had been donating for a while, someone at the blood bank approached me about donating platelets. Your blood is made up of several components, including red cells, white cells, plasma and platelets. When people donate what they call "whole blood," the little red bag gets separated into components, and the components are given separately to patients according to their needs. For example, an accident or shooting victim might need red blood cells. Organ transplant recipients might need plasma. Cancer patients need platelets.
Donating platelets is a little more complicated than donating whole blood. It takes about two hours, during which time I am hooked up to a machine that takes out my whole blood, swirls it around to remove the platelets, and then reintroduces the rest of my blood back into my system. I lie on a bed with a heating pad and a blanket to keep me from getting chilled. Someone watches me the entire time to make sure I am okay. I need calcium and warm drinks afterwards.
I have been doing this once a week.
Why once a week? Because cancer patients need platelets that often. They need platelets so often, and they get so many infusions, that they develop antibodies against donated platelets that do not match their own antigens perfectly. And, recently, the blood center determined that I am an antigen match for a local cancer patient. I can donate to someone in need, and they won't reject my blood. So some specific person who is fighting hard to recover needs me to do this, reliably, once a week.
|Selfie during donation. It's hard to take pictures one-handed.|
On my last visit, last week, they told me my patient had improved significantly. So much so that he or she won't be needing weekly infusions any more. I'll still donate regularly, but for now that person is going to be okay. And I played a role in his or her recovery.
It's actually a great feeling.
Consider donating. Not everyone can; your health history might disqualify you. If you're disqualified, think about what else you might be able to do. Maybe your school, house of worship, or local group could host a blood drive? You can be in charge of the blood drive, and you might just get that same good feeling that I get when I give.