Apheresis – A Special Kind of Blood Donation

Leroy Straight averages 20-24 visits per year to the Donor Center to give platelets.
Apheresis platelet donors are a special and dedicated group

Many hospital patients need platelet transfusions on their road to recovery and the American Red Cross offers a different type of blood donation for people to help them.

If you know someone who has battled cancer; someone who has been seriously injured; someone who has needed open heart surgery, chances are they needed platelets during their treatment to help them recover. Platelets aid in clotting to prevent or stop bleeding. The Red Cross can collect platelets during a special type of blood donation – apheresis - that allows a specific part of the blood to be collected from a volunteer donor.

Some medical treatments can cause a patient’s platelet level to drop. When platelet levels fall too low, patients are given a transfusion of platelets to replenish their supply and prevent life-threatening hemorrhages. Patients who have had a bone marrow transplant or who are being treated for leukemia may require daily platelet transfusions for several weeks.

Apheresis platelet donors are a special and dedicated group. They give two hours of their time to help patients in need, sometimes as often as every two weeks. Platelets can also be processed from a regular whole blood donation, but an adequate dose requires that multiple donations be pooled from many donors. Most patients who need platelets have weakened immune systems and a platelet dose from a single apheresis donor is preferred by many physicians.

During a platelet donation, a small portion of the donor’s blood is drawn and passed through a sophisticated cell-separating machine. The machine collects the platelets and safely returns the remaining blood components, along with some saline, back to the donor. Afterward, the donor can resume normal activities, being careful to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise that day.

Because platelets can be stored for only five days, there is always a need for more apheresis donors. The Red Cross is grateful to people who give platelets and encourages whole blood donors to try taking their donation experience to the next level. For more information about donating platelets, or to make an appointment to be an apheresis donor, visit the platelet donation section of redcrossblood.org.

*Photo Caption: December 3, 2012. Fullerton Donor Center, Fullerton, California. Leroy Straight averages 20-24 visits per year to the Donor Center to give platelets. To date, Leroy has given more than 600 platelet donations, and he claims he’s far from finished. Photo by Jody Lane/American Red Cross

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.