Platelets are very small cellular components of blood that help to control bleeding. When a blood vessel is damaged, platelets collect at the site of the injury and temporarily repair the tear. Platelets then activate clotting factor substances in plasma, which form a clot and allow the wound to heal.
Many lifesaving medical treatments require platelet transfusions. Cancer patients, those receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, victims of traumatic injuries and patients undergoing open heart surgery require platelet transfusions to survive. Because platelets can be stored for only five days, the need for platelet donations is vast and continuous. The platelet donation process is called an apheresis donation.
Apheresis (ay-fur-ee-sis) is a special kind of blood donation that allows a donor to give a specific blood component, such as platelets. During the apheresis procedure, all but the needed blood component is returned to the donor.
If you meet the requirements for donating blood, you probably can give platelets. Apheresis donors must be at least 17 years old (16 years old with parental consent), be in good health, weigh at least 120 pounds and not have taken aspirin or products containing aspirin within 48 hours prior to donation.
Different patients need different blood components, depending on their illness or injury. After you donate whole blood, the unit is separated into platelets, red cells and plasma in our laboratory. Only two tablespoons of platelets are collected from an entire blood donation. Six whole blood donations must be used to provide a single platelet transfusion. However, one apheresis donation provides enough platelets for one complete transfusion – six times the amount collected from a whole blood donation.
Depending on your weight, the apheresis donation process will take anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours. You can watch television, listen to music or simply sit back and relax while helping to save a life.