A platelet donor is a blood donor who agrees to donate a specific part of the blood known as platelets. Platelets are responsible for the blood's ability to clot normally and may be needed by cancer patients or those with certain types of bleeding disorders. The process of platelet donation is similar to that of regular blood donation and usually takes two hours or less. After the platelet donor is screened and is determined to be qualified to donate, a needle is inserted into a vein and the platelets are removed in a process known as apheresis. Any specific questions or concerns about becoming a platelet donor can be discussed with a member of the medical staff at a local blood bank.
Specific guidelines on becoming a platelet donor may differ from one location to another, so it is best to check with a local blood bank before deciding to donate. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to eat a full meal before donating because the loss of blood can cause dizziness or fainting, especially when donating on an empty stomach. It is usually recommended that the platelet donor refrain from taking blood-thinning medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin for at least a couple of days before donating. The potential platelet donor will be carefully screened to make sure all guidelines have been met, and the platelets will be tested for the presence of contagious diseases before being given to the recipient.
Cancer patients have the greatest need for platelets due to damage caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatments. In many cases, these patients require a platelet transfusion several times per week. For this reason, a blood donor may also be asked to be a platelet donor, especially if the local supply of platelets is running low. Other types of patients who may require platelet transfusions include burn victims, people with heart disease, or those who have recently undergone an organ transplant.
At the beginning of the donation process, a needle is used to insert a small catheter into one of the blood vessels of the arm. Blood is then sent from the arm into a specialized machine that filters the platelets from the blood before returning the blood back into the arm. Sterile needles and other materials are used for each donor and discarded after use, eliminating the possibility of cross-contamination of any potential blood-borne pathogens. This process can usually be repeated once every seven days, although each facility may have individual guidelines concerning the frequency of donation.