Saturday, September 13, 2014

How to Donate Platelets

This is by far probably the most important blog post I've ever written. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the importance of fudge brownies or homemade ice cream on just the right occasion, but this is different. This makes a difference. This post is about how to donate platelets.

Ok, so you might be wondering, "I've been told about how important it is to donate blood, but what the heck are platelets? Is it the same process? Does it hurt? How long does it take? Can anyone do this?" I'm here to answer every question you might have and hopefully by the end of this post, you're inspired to go out and donate yourself!

Question: What the heck are platelets and why do people donate them?

Pronounced just like it's spelled (plate-lets), platelets are cells within our blood that help with clotting, which is why they're so important when it comes to cancer therapy, open heart surgery, treatment of blood disorders, and organ transplants. If someone is undergoing chemotherapy, for example, not just the cancer cells but ALL cells are destroyed and their immune system is weak. A single donation of platelets can provide a full dose for a patient in need. I was next to a guy who was able to donate two doses! In comparison, it takes four to six blood donations to produce one dose of platelets for a patient. Now do you see why they're so important?

Question: Ok, so people need platelets. Got it. Can anyone donate or are there restrictions like in giving blood?

Many people don't know they can donate platelets until a family member or friend is in need but just like blood, the donations are always needed. The best part? You can donate every 2-3 weeks (up to 24 times a year)! Much more frequently than donating blood! Unfortunately, not everyone can donate. Your iron, hemoglobin, and platelet counts must be high enough in numbers in order to donate, which can be easily determined by a quick blood test. Also, I know the FDA has a ban against gay men donating blood or platelets, however #1) it looks like that ban may be lifted sooner than we think and #2) at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, for example, they will accept donations from gay men as long as they haven't had sex with another man. Slight loophole but it may apply to you.

Question: You said a blood test has to be done before you can donate?

Yeah, I tried donating about a month ago and couldn't because my counts were too low. They recommend your iron count be at least a 38, platelets at least 200,000, and your hemoglobin at least 12.5. I know these are just a bunch of random numbers to you right now, but it's good info to have. When I first tried to donate, my iron was so low because it was just after my period ended, which depletes your iron count. So what did I do? I took iron supplements everyday and after 40 days, my numbers were dramatically different!

My iron (HCT) went from a 34.9 to 40 (need at least 38)
My hemoglobin (HGB) went from 11.6 to 13.5 (need at least 12.5)
My platelets (PLT) went from 165K to 249K (need at least 200K)
All within 40 days because of iron supplements!

My new results! I passed!
Question: Ok, say you go, you do the blood test, and you pass. Do they put you under? Are you hooked up to multiple machines? How long does it take?

No, they don't put you under. Yes, you are hooked up to a machine but in the same way you would be if you were giving blood. And it can take anywhere between an hour and two hours, depending on how much you're able to give.

I was only able to do donate 1 1/2 units, which equalled 78 minutes. But here's what goes down:

#1) Just like with giving blood, they poke the inside of your arm with a needle (don't worry, you're not staring at it for 2 hours, it gets covered up!) and hook you up to a machine that takes your blood, takes out the platelets within the machine, and puts the blood back in you (pretty cool, huh?). Not a great picture but this was my view of the machine extracting my blood. The little blue knobs were turning and workin' away!

#2) Once the needle is in and you're comfortable, you're covered in blankets. Why? When you donate platelets, you get very cold. Who knew?

Snuggled under my blankets, next to my platelets-pullin' machine!

#3) Since you're going to be reclining there for a while, you can watch a movie (Children's Hospital Los Angeles has a HUGE selection!), you can read a book, listen to a podcast, etc. While you wait, you have a stress ball in your hand and squeeze every few seconds to keep the blood flowing from your vein. If you don't squeeze, your vein vibrates. I know, it sounds crazy, but I thought my phone was in my elbow at one point. That just means your vein is collapsing and you need to squeeze so blood can flow again. No big deal, just vibration = squeeze.

#4) Sometimes your lips tingle. When that happens, it means you're losing calcium, so they can give you Tums. However, if you have amy form of TMJ, don't chew or your jaw will hurt like the dickens! I didn't think I did but.. I apparently do. Suck on the Tums, cookies, whatever they give ya.

#5) After the time is up, they disconnect you from the machines, you can eat cookies and drink juice, and you're set! See, told you it was easy.

Question: So what did you do after? Did you feel tired? Did you pass out?

I was feeling a little lightheaded and tingly but the orange juice and sugar cookies took care of that. I actually went to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl right after, so don't think you're going to be out of commission for the rest of the day. You're totally fine, just don't lift anything heavy or run a marathon. You know, common sense.

Platelets are desperately needed (my theory is because no one knows what they are or that they can donate them!). When hospitals don't have any on hand, they have to buy units from the Red Cross. But here's the kicker - the units you just donated have to be transfused within 5 days of the donation or they expire, which is why I liked doing it at CHLA because I knew they would take the units, run them upstairs, and immediately help a baby or child in need.

Did you know your platelets are yellow?
And there you have it folks, now you have no excuse not to save a life or two. Instead of reading this reclined in bed or on your couch, you could be reading this reclined at a donation center. Not everyone has the ability to donate, which is why you should do it. Seriously, an hour and a half every 2-3 weeks, that's it. Oh, and if your blood type is AB, you're the ideal donor so go! Now! Here's a link to the Red Cross for more information on donating.

And a quick shout-out to the team at CHLA - thank you for being so funny, nice, and not laughing at my 1,001 questions!

You don't have to spend a dime, you get free cookies and juice, and oh! If you donate at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, you get a free meal voucher for their cafe! More free food!

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: Depends on person
But on average, you're looking at 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the donation (not including any time to fill out paperwork, eat your cookies at the end, etc.)

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 2 out of 5
I don't give it a 1 because not everyone can do it (say, if your levels are too low, you're on certain medications, etc.). But if you can, you can just sit back, relax, and realize you're doing something amazing for someone else. You can make monetary donations, sure, but this means so much more.


  1. Wow. I'm going to have to read this a couple of times... I've never been able to donate blood because I have ridiculously small, pinch-shaped cells, but I wonder if platelets would work...

  2. Just a tiny correction - type AB is the ideal RECEIVER. Type O is the ideal donor. But goodness knows that shouldn't let anyone stop them from donating, whether it's to a local hospital or the Red Cross. Blood and blood products of all types are always, always, always needed!

    1. I'm afraid you're thinking of blood donations, not platelets donations. According to the Red Cross, "People with type O-negative blood are the universal donor for whole blood ... Since only about 4 percent of the population has type AB blood, these donors’ platelets and plasma are in high demand." But lets be honest, the Red Cross and hospitals will take anything you can give, regardless of your blood type!


    2. Good to know! I'm learning today :) It's true, they'll take anything and put it to good use - and call a billion times after that, but who can get mad when it's to save lives?

  3. hello! I found your blog through craftfail (your crockpot mac n cheese post had me rollin'!) but I also found this post. I wanted to say, THANK YOU for donating platelets! My 9yo son has CVID (an immune disorder) and has to have IVIg therapy to help boost up his immune system. It's only viable through blood plasma, so thank you for donating! :)

  4. excellent information about increassing blood platelets with food,thanks for this info.

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