Tuesday, March 22, 2005 | As March Madness rages on and basketball fans nationwide sit hypnotically glued to their television sets, I chose to measure my success differently – not in points, but pints. I have been told that my blood is special. Being AB positive, the third rarest type, I represent only one out of 29 people. AB negative, the rarest, is found in one person out of 167 followed by B negative in one out of 67 people.
Over the years, I’ve given blood a few times which amounted to a relatively painless 15-minute procedure. When I received a call from the San Diego division of the American Red Cross Blood Services asking if I would become an “Apheresis” donor, I envisioned a similarly uncomfortable, but quick procedure.
The voice pouring from the phone explained to me that Apheresis means “to take away” and is a process by which a machine called a cell separator removes platelets from your blood and returns the rest of your red blood cells back to you. You have two needles in your arm – one to draw the blood and another to return the remaining components. The platelets – blood elements that are key in clotting – are needed primarily for people who suffer from cancer, leukemia and aplastic anemia, and AB positive platelets (of which I happened to be the proud host) are in particular demand.
Wanting my blood to be useful, I made an appointment for a month later. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
When I showed up at the Red Cross, I filled out a questionnaire about my health and had my blood drawn to make sure I had enough iron. While waiting, a nurse explained to me that Apheresis can be a two-and-a-half hour procedure. This information was news to me – perhaps I zoned out in the aforementioned telephone conversation or the early stirrings of senility had washed away this vital piece of information. How would it feel to have a needle in my arm for that long? Would I freak out? The nurse, recognizing the color draining from my complexion and heavy breathing, assured me that I could make a regular blood donation instead. Not being one to give up, I decided to go through with the process even if it meant losing a little bit of sanity.
Relaxing in a comfortable pink recliner, I was bundled up in blankets by Dolores Dishno and Donna Beeman, registered nurses who took care of me for the next two-and-a-half hours. While swaddled like a newborn baby, I listened to the nurses explain that the process goes faster if your body stays warm. Dolores gave me ear sets, and I picked a movie – Prime Suspect, a PBS mystery – to watch. Other than the needle in my arm (which I tried to ignore), I felt like a princess at a health spa.
Dolores and Donna brought me hot tea and cookies and monitored me continually. I practiced my yoga breathing, visualized the person who would be helped by my platelets and tried to enjoy the forced leisure on a weekday afternoon.
After my experience, I talked with Mike Hartman, the San Diego Red Cross Apheresis Coordinator. “Each of our Apheresis donors is special,” said Hartman who has been donating his platelets for more than 30 years. “Less than five percent of the population donates blood, and even fewer give platelets.” According to data from the Red Cross, every two seconds someone needs blood, and 33 percent of Americans will need blood products at some time in their lives.
I’m hooked. This needle definitely was addictive, and I’ll be back.
Please contact Barbara Bry directly at Barbara.Bry@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips.