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Apheresis is a special kind of blood donation. It allows whole blood to be collected from a donor and separated into its components. All but the selected components are returned to the donor. The drawn blood component, such as platelets and plasma, is made available to a patient recipient.

Whole blood is made of several components including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Each component performs a different action to help the body heal. Apheresis procedures are used to collect platelets, plasma, and white blood cells. Each unit of whole blood (the amount you donate when you give whole blood) contains only about two tablespoons of platelet concentrate. Through apheresis, a donor can safely give enough platelets to equal six to ten regular whole blood donations. This means that the patient is exposed to six to ten times less risk.

Apheresis is done by drawing blood from one of the donor's arms through sterile tubing into a centrifuge located in a cell separator machine. The machine spins the blood to separate the platelets from the other components. The platelets are collected and the remaining components are returned to the donor through their other arm. The cell separator is a closed, sterile system utilizing disposable needles and plastic tubing. It is quite safe for the donor.

Apheresis donation takes about two hours. Donors can watch a movie, talk, nap, or read during the process. The body replaces the donated cells in just a few days. The donation does not significantly decrease the number of platelets in the donor's blood. Healthy people have a large surplus of platelets.

Organ transplant recipients, cancer and leukemia patients, and patients with blood disorders benefit from apheresis blood components. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments destroy both diseased and healthy cells, so cancer patients often need transfusions to prevent bleeding or fight infection. During treatment, they can become resistant to the tissue antigen in the blood they receive.

Apheresis donors are tissue typed, and called when components are needed for a patient with a compatible blood type. Increasingly, hospitals are requesting apheresis-derived platelets regardless of tissue type because the recipient is exposed to a much lower risk. So, apheresis is becoming even more important.

If you would like to know more about apheresis and live near Portland, Oregon, call the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services at (503) 280-1446. Even if you live outside the Pacific Northwest, they can put you in touch with the right people. Please tell them about this web page when you call.

What about whole blood donations?

The Red Cross needs whole blood donors, too. In fact, there has been a chronic shortage of blood in the Pacific Northwest recently. Apheresis does not prevent you from also donating whole blood. The Red Cross encourages you to make both types of donations.

Please help alleviate the whole blood shortage by donating whole blood today, especially if you cannot make apheresis donations. For more information about whole blood donation, please call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or your local Red Cross chapter.

Web page created 10/15/95.
Last updated 03/17/03 at 14:35.

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