Sunday, March 11, 2007

Apheresis Donation

Hey, I'm back. No, I wasn't taking a break to let the flamers cool down. I was traveling on business and visiting my buddy Paul and his wife and squirt on Dallas. I got back Friday, and spent Saturday morning donating platelets through Apheresis at the local blood bank.

I've been a blood donor for years. I usually give every time they call me, and it feels good to so. Blood donation doesn't seem to affect me physically, and I can usually get through the day without any dizziness of tiredness. So during my last donation, I got curious about the machine a couple of donors were hooked up to across the room, and the nurse explained the apheresis process to me.

As explained by the Central Blood Bank website and by the nurse, during apheresis blood is drawn and sent through a cell-separator machine. The machine spins the blood to separate the needed component, and then returns the remaining components to the donor in the same arm. I learned that this process is used to give platelets, which are the cellular component that stops bleeding and are used for cancer or leukemia patients, transplant patients and people with blood disorders. she told me the process would take about 2-1/2 hours and could be done early on a Saturday morning. And while a pint of whole blood has a shelf life of 45 days, platelets last only 5 days, making it all that much more important for the Blood Bank to find platelet donors regularly. Sounded good to me. So I signed up.

Up to the point of the actual needle stick, the beginning of the process is exactly the same as a regular blood donation. Fill out some papers, check the vitals, fill in a bunch of bubbles to answer questions about my last trip to Africa with an HIV-stricken pregnant prostitute with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and a penchant for needle-sharing to get a tattoo.

After the needle stick, things got a little weird.

In a normal donation, the nurse hangs the bag below you and gravity does the work of removing the blood from your arm. With Apheresis, the blood is sucked by a pump from your arm. As it enters the machine, those wheels start whirring as the centrifuge kicks into gear, and the platelets are separated from the blood. The rest of the blood is mixed with an anticoagulant and fed back into your arm through the same needle. I must say, I was not a fan of that feeling. Not only was it literally a rush to the head, but the anticoagulant, as I was told, made my lips, teeth, and head tingle. The nurse gave me Tums to eat, telling me that would ease the tingling. Oddly, they did. That went on for a little over an hour. I also found that if my arm rested in a more natural position (palm down), the blood didn't flow so well through the machine, and it began beeping like R2-D2 to warn the nurse.

After the process was done, it took a little more time for me than usual to make it to the cantina for my free cookie and juice. I was light headed and bordering on nauseous. But that passed in about ten minutes, and I was back to normal. The nurse told me that extra calcium before a donation next time would help all those feelings.

Apheresis is a rewarding and extremely necessary experience. I certainly won't do it every time I give blood, but I could see doing it once a year or more. If you've got the stomach and criteria for blood donation, then give apheresis a try. It may be a bit uncomfortable and draining (literally), but look on the bright side: you'll save a few lives, get to watch a grainy copy of Terminator 3 while you sit there, make your kids look at you like you're a superhero, and convince your spouse that the most important thing you should do the rest of that busy Saturday is sit out on the deck and relax.

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