By Ms. Jennifer Clampet (Army Medicine)July 10, 2012
If we are cut, do we not bleed?
But more importantly, shouldn't that wound eventually stop bleeding?
For some patients wounds only heal with the help of donated platelets -- the tiniest elements of human blood primarily related in function of coagulation.
Platelet donations save lives every day.
William Beaumont Army Medical Center Blood Donor Center has a goal of 40 platelet donors a month. It's a goal that's hard to reach. Why?
It takes time to save a life.
Platelet donations can take up to two hours to complete. But before writing this off as a time-consuming donation, consider this.
The long process includes an interview similar to that given to whole blood donors and a slightly more in depth screening process. Donors are then hooked up to an apheresis machine which separates out red blood cells from the plasma and platelets. The red blood cells are transfused back into the donor.
What's ultimately donated is a swishing bag of yellow liquid that when fully processed is a life-saving serum.
But most of the work is really done after donations are complete. The platelets are cultured and collected from the plasma. And after the donation and necessary testing, the platelets have a shelf life of only five days.
At which time, WBAMC staff eagerly wait for more donors willing to spare a few hours to save a life.
Who do platelets help?
All platelet donations gathered at WBAMC Blood Donor Center are used for patients at WBAMC.
"That's the big thing -- giving it to the patients," said Spc. Trevor Fitch, a maintenance specialist with the Blood Donor Center.
Fitch was recently recognized with an Army Achievement Medal for donating platelets eight times within a year.
"I don't need (the platelets), at least not all of them," said the young Soldier who regularly stops by the WBAMC Blood Donor Center and offers to give whole blood or platelets -- whichever the center needs most.
"When I go in that's what they need (platelets)," Fitch said.
How do platelets save lives?
A healthy adult has an average platelet count of 200,000 to 300,000. A cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy can have a platelet count as low as 2,000 -- a level that can lead to hemorrhaging.
Platelets are the smallest of the formed elements in blood, a disk-shaped, non-nucleated element with a fragile membrane, formed in the red bone marrow. Platelets tend to adhere to uneven or damaged surfaces.
This coagulation of blood is fundamental to the human body -- a kind of self-preserving mechanism to seal off openings in blood vessels.
But what happens, when the tiny elements and their sticky components aren't sufficient enough in number?
When platelet levels are low -- as seen in trauma victims, surgery patients and those undergoing cancer treatments -- death can occur.
Can I give platelets?
The guidelines for platelet donations are similar to the screening questions asked when giving whole blood donations. Restrictions on weight, age and previous travel history apply to donors as well as waiting periods after tattoos and piercings.
Donors must meet a minimum platelet count. And those who have received blood transfusions cannot donate platelets.
Platelet donations can be done every two weeks.
"We take care of our donors," said Jennifer Antonetty, a medical technician at the WBAMC Blood Donor Center.
The center provides television access and snacks to donors as they wait out their donation time attached to an apheresis machine which separates out their blood.
The long process is no doubt a deterrent to some, said Lori Kuczmanski, blood donator coordinator, but in general military service members and their families are aware of how important platelet donations are.
The WBAMC platelet donation program is geared toward one end goal -- to be ready.
"The reality is we need to have platelets readily available at all times," Kuczmanski said.