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Published on February 19, 2016

Donate platelets to save lives on Cape CodDonate platelets to save lives on Cape Cod

Tyler Smith is alive today because scores of people he may never know donated platelets while he was fighting for his life five years ago against acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

apheresis equipment

Today, totally recovered and robust enough to play hockey, the Falmouth teen is a testament to the power of platelets, which are crucial to clotting blood. Separating platelets from red blood cells requires a special process called apheresis, which, up until now was not available at Cape Cod Hospital or Falmouth Hospital.

Cape Cod Healthcare’s Blood Center now has the ability to collect platelets, serving patients needing them in primarily oncology, cardiology and the emergency centers at the two hospitals.

Until now, platelets had to be purchased off-Cape. That not only was very expensive, but the supply was uncertain. One platelet donation can provide as many platelets as six to eight whole blood donations. This helps keep a person with cancer and a weakened immune system from being exposed to many donors.

“All the chemotherapy made my body stop making blood. It killed most of my blood marrow,” explained Tyler. “That’s when I needed lots of platelets to stop internal bleeding and other bruising. Without the blood, I was going to die. My mom and dad told me I have needed dozens of units of platelets and 35 pints of red blood.”

The new separating machine at the Blood Center  draws blood from a donor’s arm, separates and collects the plasma, and returns the rest back into the same arm using a sterile system of plastic bags and tubing. This spinning process occurs in a small centrifuge and is repeated until enough platelets are collected. The entire process, depending on a donor’s height and weight, takes between 90 minutes and two hours.

“We expect to collect two donations a day Mondays through Thursdays, to start,” said Constance Patten, director of Cape Cod Healthcare’s Blood Bank.

“We have a list of about 300 people who have expressed interest in donating platelets, and many of them have gone off Cape to donate in the past,” she said. “We believe we can be 80 to 100 percent self-sufficient because of so much interest in the community to donate.”

While red blood cell donations can be stored for 42 days, platelets are good for only five days, she said. “Platelets require quick turnaround time, and it is very hard to keep an inventory of them.”

The good news is that people can donate platelets much more frequently than they can whole blood, Patten noted. You must wait at least eight weeks between donations of whole blood, but you can give platelets every 7 days up to 24 times a year.

“Platelet donors are very committed and loyal,” said Patten. “We have one woman who is on our list of potential donors who has been waiting to provide platelets to us since 1986.”

The arrival of the is yet another significant step in Cape Cod Healthcare’s goal of collecting 100 percent of the blood it needs for Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital. Last year, the first-ever CCHC Bloodmobile arrived and now travels from one end of the Cape to the other to support blood drives sponsored by scores of Cape Cod businesses and organizations.

“Every pint of blood donated by Cape Codders stays right here on Cape Cod to save the lives of our friends, family and neighbors,” said Patten.

Donors interested in giving platelets should:

  • Avoid aspirin or products that contain aspirin at least 48 hours before a donation
  • Consume extra calcium and fluids before donating
  • Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise immediately after donating
  • Make sure to go the bathroom, prior to donation, since the process can take up to two hours