Captain Platelet is not the name I normally go by; sadly my parents opted for something slightly more conventional. It is, however, the name I was given by one of the friendly nursing staff at the Southampton Donor Centre the first time I donated blood platelets.
I have been donating blood for a few years and it is always something that I have found strangely relaxing, which I know is far from what many people expect it to be. As a child, I was petrified of needles. In fact, every time I had to have any kind of injection there would be crying and screaming. The only way my mum would be able to get me to the doctors would be to deceive me by telling me that it was just a ‘check-up’, and even afterwards she would have to reward me for ‘being such a brave boy’.
Seemingly this reward served a purpose, as now it is not something that bothers me, but from my own experience I do understand others’ fear of needles. I would like to share my donation experience and give some information about the process in the hope that it may encourage some people to consider donating themselves, or perhaps just to spread the word.
The last time I gave blood, the nurse had taken a blood sample to be analysed in the lab to check my eligibility for platelet donation. I had not really thought about donating platelets before and it was only after the nurse commented on the apparent suitability of my vein that I started to look into it. As it was my first time I was unsure what to expect, but one of the nurses explained the procedure to me very clearly. I had done a bit of research beforehand, although I was unaware that, ideally, I shouldn’t have eaten any foods with a high fat content prior to the donation, as this can mean that the sample is rejected. Despite a slight uneasiness after hearing this and remembering all the chocolate I had eaten the day before, it turned out I had burned off any significant amounts of fat and so the sample was clean, healthy, and usable.
With platelet donation, a machine is required to extract the platelets from the whole blood sample. The blood is taken out of the vein in the arm and then mixed with a blood thinner in order to prevent clotting. It is then spun at high speed to separate the platelets from the whole blood before being returned to your body, and there are air detectors which ensure that none of the sterile air in the collection enters the vein. The donation arm can get a little cold during the process so a heating blanket is placed around the arm which keeps you nice and toasty. The actual donation takes up to 90 minutes, but this time flies by. There was plenty of chatter with the staff and other donors, and it is actually a really great way to meet new people from different walks of life. I now recognise the faces of the staff at the donor centre and even received a Christmas card signed by all the nurses when I last donated blood in December.
Platelets are required to help the blood to clot, and this means they are used in a variety of situations which include the treatment of cancer patients, crash trauma patients, and those with severe blood disorders. Knowing that donating blood or platelets can save or improve peoples lives has made it a simple decision for me, and now I feel a responsibility to encourage others to consider doing the same. Being a student, I have no money. I give what I can to charity, but giving blood or platelets means that I can give something back that costs me nothing. It is a rewarding feeling to think that my platelet donation could be keeping alive 3 adults or up to 12 infants somewhere in the country, and that thought makes me proud that I have become a donor.
Whilst chatting to one of the nurses, I was told that very few students become platelet donors and that in Southampton there seems to have been a drop in the number of students donating blood too. If you are interested in registering as a whole blood or platelet donor or you can visit the website to find out more about the donation process and you can read stories of both patients and donors who explain the importance of whole blood and platelet donation.