What are Platelets?

Platelets are blood cells that help control bleeding. When a blood vessel is damaged, platelets collect at the site of the injury and temporarily repair the tear. Platelets then activate substances in plasma which form a clot and allow the wound to heal.

Why is there always a need for platelets?

Platelets are best stored at room temperature, and have a shelf life of only 5 days. Refrigerated red cells can be stored for 42 days, and frozen plasma for up to a year. That’s why platelet donations are always needed, every day. Their limited storage life means that we must continuously collect new platelets to meet patient needs.

Who Needs Platelets?

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. 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. Platelet transfusions are needed each year by thousands of patients like these:

  • Heart Surgery Patient, 6 units
  • Burn Patient, 20 units
  • Organ Transplant Patient, 30 units
  • Bone Marrow Transplant Patient, 120 units

What is Apheresis?

Apheresis (ay-fur-ee-sis) is a special kind of blood donation that allows a donor to give specific blood components, such as platelets. During the apheresis procedure, all but the needed blood component is returned to the donor.

Why is Blood Separated?

Different patients need different types of 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 a whole blood donation. Six whole blood donations must be separated and pooled to provide a single platelet transfusion. However, one apheresis donation provides enough platelets for one complete transfusion — that’s six times the amount collected from a whole blood donation.

Who Can be an Apheresis Donor?

If you meet the requirements for donating blood, you probably can give platelets. Apheresis donors must:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • be in good health
  • weigh at least 114 pounds
  • not have taken aspirin or products containing aspirin 48 hours prior to donation.

Are Apheresis Donations Safe?

Yes. Each donation is closely supervised throughout the procedure by trained staff. A small percentage of your platelets are collected, so there is no risk of bleeding problems. Your body will replace the donated platelets within 72 hours. The donation equipment (needle, tubing, collection bags) are sterile and discarded after every donation, making it virtually impossible to contract a disease from the process.

How Does the Procedure Work?

During an Apheresis donation, blood is drawn from your arm into an automated cell separator. Inside a sterile kit within the machine, your blood is spun and platelets are removed. Your remaining blood components are then returned through your arm.

How Long Does it Take?

Depending on your weight and height, the Apheresis donation process will take approximately 70 minutes to two hours. You may watch television or videotapes, listen to music, or simply sit back and relax while helping to save a life.

How Can I Become an Apheresis Donor?

Call Bloodworks Northwest’s Apheresis Program at 425-453-5098 or 1-800-398-7888 for more information or to make an appointment.

Additional Donor Information on Apheresis Procedures

If your donation includes an Apheresis procedure—for example plateletpheresis—there may be some additional symptoms to be aware of.

Platelets help stop bleeding. Your platelet count will be determined with each platelet donation you make to ensure that you have enough platelets to be able to safely donate for another person. If your platelet count after the first donation is too low or too high, we will notify you.

An anticoagulant containing citrate is used to keep the blood flowing while our device collects the platelets from your blood. The citrate binds calcium temporarily to keep the blood from clotting.

To prevent clotting, your blood is mixed in the machine with a liquid called an “anticoagulant” during the collection process. When the blood is returned to you the anticoagulant can sometimes cause numbness and tingling of the fingertips or around the mouth. If you feel numbness and tingling, you should inform the operator running the machine immediately. These symptoms are easily treated with calcium, but if not treated can progress to muscle cramps. The citrate is an energy source for your body and will be metabolized.

Collections of red blood cells or plasma by apheresis may also cause the symptoms caused by the infusion of citrate as an anticoagulant, and the temporary symptoms associated with low calcium described above. If this occurs, tell the collection staff right away and they will give you calcium tablets and make the necessary adjustments in the collection process to keep you comfortable.

Your gift of blood, time or money saves lives.