One way to save a life: Donating platelets

Platelets have a wide range of clinical uses
Posted at 12:27 PM, Jun 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-18 13:34:57-04
Arthur Nienhuis is fine now, but five years ago after what seemed like a complete recovery from Hodgkin's Lymphoma, he got bad news from his doctors.
"I relapsed eighteen months later," the tall, fit Nienhuis said as he sat in the Sherman Park garden he tends for his family. "And it was a little bit more difficult just because a lot of the drugs are more difficult."
His regimen of chemotherapy often left him completely worn down. The drugs were successful in crushing the cancer, but Nienhuis needed help to bounce back from the harsh drugs.
"Afterwards, I had to receive a bunch of platelets, just to help the healing process move along quicker."
The Wisconsin Blood Center actively recruits platelet donors. Platelets have a wide range of clinical uses. 
"We see a lot of patients that are being treated for cancer that benefit from platelets," said Linda Gruber the director of donor services for the Blood Center of Wisconsin.
Cancer, AIDS and recovering trauma patients can all rely on platelets to regain strength and heal. After I made a recent whole blood donation, the Blood Center of Wisconsin asked me to become a platelet donor. It turns out my blood test showed I had platelet-rich blood. 
So I signed up to make my first platelet donation on a warm, spring, Friday morning at the Blood Center of Wisconsin.
I was given a medical evaluation during which my blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin count were all checked, then whisked into the donation center to begin the actual donation.
"The machine does all the work," Gruber explained. "Every once in a while you have to squeeze and it's a process of drawing blood out, separating the platelets, giving you back the red cells, drawing out and that cycle continues throughout until we hit the number of platelets that we are targeting for that product."
It happened just as Gruber described it. I was placed in a comfy chair and hooked up to the platelet donation machine. The only thing close to discomfort I encountered was a modest chill. The blood was pumped out of my system and body temperature, but pumped back in at room temperature. A pretty good chill sets in during the process. The staff at the blood center, though, is right there with a warm blanket to keep donors comfortable.
All told, I spent 83 minutes hooked up to the machine. When I was finished, I'd produced a small bag of yellowish, platelet-rich plasma. The stuff only keeps for five days as it is stored at room temperature. So, as I munched on a gigantic cinnamon roll after my donation, I knew that my platelets would go to work saving a life before the middle of next week.