By Bethany Bray Patterson
Every time Bill Zaccagnino walks through the door of the Red Cross blood donation center in Fairfax, Virginia, he thinks of his brother.
Zaccagnino’s brother passed away from cancer two decades ago. He makes time to donate platelets regularly – an amazing 21 times in 2022 – to help those who are fighting the same fight.
Someone in the U.S. needs life-saving platelets every 15 seconds; they are essential to treat cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries. Eligible donors may donate platelets every seven days, up to 24 times a year.
“I do it because I know it helps,” says Zaccagnino, who has donated platelets regularly since November 2003. “I know someone could be saved.”
Individuals who donate platelets are connected to a machine for roughly two hours while it collects blood from one arm, separates the platelets from other blood components and returns the remaining fluids into the other arm. The collection stations are comfortable and equipped with a screen for the donor to watch their choice of movies and shows.
Zaccagnino says he enjoys it as a time to relax and watch Netflix.
Platelets must be used within five days and new donors are needed every day – particularly during the winter months. Compared with a typical whole blood donation, which must be used within 42 days, the short shelf life means that a platelet donation received by the Red Cross is processed and available to help a hospital patient that same week.
Donated platelets are particularly needed to help treat cancer patients because certain cancers and cancer treatments prevent patients from producing their own. The ideal blood types for platelet donation are A positive, A negative, B positive, O positive, AB positive and AB negative.
January is National Blood Donor Month! There are many, many reasons to donate blood or platelets, but here are three important ones for January:
1. Giving blood is an easy New Year’s resolution to keep and it helps save lives! Make your first donation appointment of 2023 with the American Red Cross by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
2. January is often a challenging time to maintain a sufficient blood supply. Holiday get-togethers, school breaks, winter weather and illnesses often lead to lower donor turnout, but the need for blood, platelets and plasma doesn’t pause.
3. You are the best defense against a blood shortage! In thanks for helping save lives, those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma with the Red Cross in January will get a chance at a trip to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona. (Terms apply; visit RedCrossBlood.org/SuperBowl for more information.)
Don’t wait: Make your appointment to donate!