By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer
Platelet donations are crucial in the ongoing fight against cancer. Their importance is movingly illustrated by a recent quote we received from Mandi Kuhlman, an American Red Cross blood donor in Putnam County, Ohio. Mandi said, “My 2 ½ year old son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and through the course of his treatment he needed transfusion after transfusion. Between red blood cells and platelets he received 25 transfusions within the first few months of treatment as the chemo severely impacted his counts. Without the generosity of donors his outcome could have been much different, so I started donating to give someone else the precious gift of life saving transfusions.”
Mandi’s quote sums up the need and effectiveness of platelet donation for cancer treatment, the love of a parent, and the inspiration to help others. As February 4th is World Cancer Day — and February is National Cancer Prevention Month — we wanted to share her quote and highlight the need for platelet donation.
Platelets are a vital component in treating patients with cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as those recovering from traumatic injuries, as they stick to the lining of blood vessels, help form clots, and stop bleeding.
Nearly half of donated platelets go to cancer patients, as cancer and cancer treatments put them at risk for low red blood cells and low platelet counts, known as thrombocytopenia. In addition, some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, which lowers the production of platelets. Cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma attack the bone marrow as well.
In addition, hospitals have a continual need for platelets, as they must be transfused within just 5 days after donation. In fact, on average a U.S. cancer patient needs a platelet transfusion every 30 seconds, and new cancer cases are expected to increase more than 36% by 2040, increasing their demand.
Platelet donation is a little different than regular whole blood donation. They need to be donated at select Red Cross Donation Centers and require an appointment.
During the donation:
- A relatively small amount of blood is drawn from a donor’s arm and goes into a blood cell separator.
- This blood is rapidly spun, which forces the platelet cells to the bottom.
- These cells then go into a sterile, single-use plastic bag.
- Meanwhile, the rest of the blood — the plasma, red cells and white cells — is returned to the donor.
- This cycle is repeated several times. A single donation of platelets often constitutes several transfusable platelet units.
The Red Cross is especially seeking platelet donors with the following blood types and a high platelet count: A positive, B positive, AB positive, AB negative. (Type O negative and type B negative can make the most impact by giving whole blood or a Power Red donation.)
For more information or to make an appointment to donate platelets, please visit this page. You can also visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the Blood Donor App, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).