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Doing the same thing 322 times: With a little luck I may have made a difference
blood donations
U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Kemberly Groue Rose Weatherly, 81st Diagnostic and Therapeutics Squadron registered nurse apheresis supervisor, transfers blood into tubes for testing during am apheresis platelet donor session given by Airman 1st Class Thomas Humphrey, 338th Training Squadron student. Platelets may be required daily by leukemia patients who do not produce enough for themselves.

I usually ignore things I get in the mail from the Red Cross.

I’m a regular donor so I really don’t need to be reminded that blood that is donated is put to good use or to be encouraged to keep my next appointment.

For whatever reason, I opened the envelope I got Friday instead of tossing it into the trash. It was the fact it was smaller than the usual mailing.

Inside was a plastic version of my Red Cross donor card. It kind of made my day as the paper one that I’ve had for years in my wallet was worn and ratty. I didn’t read the card that came with it.

Monday as I was reaching for scratch paper on my desk to jot down a note, I opened the small card and was about to make a short list of things I needed to remember to do when I glanced at the printing.

I did a double take.

“Thank you for your 321 donations.”

I honestly had no idea it was that many times. I thought I might be closing in on 200 at the max.

Actually the number is wrong. I made it 322 on Saturday.

I bring this up not because I want a gold star or a pat on the back.

It gives me another opportunity to make a pitch to get people to consider donating blood. Whole blood donations don’t take as long as donating platelets and you can’t do it as often.

The blood you donate provides accident and trauma victims life giving blood. Make it possible for surgeries. Aid burn victims and fight cancer. Help provide ongoing lifesaving transfusions for those with chronic illnesses — both young and old.

Platelets are a bit different than whole blood transfusions that an impressive number of people do every 56 days. Phlebotomists remove your white blood cells and some plasma during a process that typically takes two hours or so for me. The additional needle time is making sure they have you hooked up properly.

It takes five whole blood donations to secure the same amount of components they can with a platelet donation. But unlike whole blood that has a shelf life of 42 days platelets are only good for five days. They are used to treat all sorts of cancer, leukemia, and certain disease in infants as well as are needed for organ transplants.

I have never missed a scheduled platelet appointment since I started in 2005 after years of simply donating whole blood.

There have been times when I was rejected because my iron was too low in the prescreening process. I have also not been allowed to give when my plasma loss for a set period exceeded the safety parameters that have been established.

Only twice has a donation been aborted. That happens when the needle has been inadvertently misplaced that creates blood infiltration to surrounding tissue. That is less than a 0.6 percent error factor over 322 donations which is pretty darn good. I’m not going to lie. Those two needle miscues hurt a bit and caused a bit of temporary bruising. But compared to the pain other people are going through that need the platelets so they can live it’s not even an annoyance.

I walk into the Red Cross donor center every other Saturday at 1 p.m. in Stockton and leave 3 or so hours later. That’s 963 hours or 40 days of my life well spent even for a number of years when I worked six days a week and Saturday was my only day off.

I have no idea who has received my platelets nor does it matter.

But I am driven by the fact that setting aside just a small amount of my time can in a small way make a difference for someone else that I’ve never met.

A lot of people are weary of simply donating whole blood that you can do every 56 days here in Manteca at the Red Cross mobile donation center Mondays from noon to 6 p.m. when it is parked outside the Manteca Veterans Center on Moffat Boulevard. You can make appointments on the Red Cross website for the Stockton donation center. Unlike a platelet donation where they hook you up to a machine, the process you donate whole blood takes only an hour.

Their weariness comes from the needle stick. I realize everyone reacts a bit differently but rarely does that bother me. My biggest issue with donating platelets is laying down for two plus hours, an issue that seemingly no other donors I’ve talked with have.

But again whatever slight discomfort I may incur pales compared to what a cancer victim is going through.

Are there other things I could do with my time? Always. That said there is nothing else I can do with my time that is as valuable and easy to do when it comes to helping someone else.

I get to give phlebotomists a bad time, binge watch Netflix or watch a movie uninterrupted. I did like it better when I could read a book for two plus hours but when the protocols allowed the use of both arms — one to remove plasma and another to return it — it helped speed up the process. I also get to devour two packs for Cheez-Its afterwords in the canteen though I honestly miss the Grandma fudge chocolate cookies they used to offer before Red Cross took over Delta Blood Bank.

I also look forward to the prescreening as I get three invaluable things out of it — an independent read of my blood pressure and heart rate as well as an iron check.

A long time ago and after I dropped 150 pounds to get down to the 170-175 range I slowly let my obsession with what the scale said every day in favor of numbers that matter such as cholesterol numbers, heat rate, and blood pressure.

I still weigh myself every day and make sure I don’t stray from a set range.

But what I really place stock in are the readings I get every two weeks that I adjust my exercise routines to try and improve.

Saturday my blood pressure was 120 over 68 and heart rate as 58. Both were a tad high for me. And as a sign I’m certifiable I had a great sense of satisfaction the three times in 322 donations they had to call the charge nurse because my heart rate was 50 or below.

I got cleared each time given after questioning they determined it was due to exercise and not a health issue. At my age of being just six months shy of 65, a resting heat rate between 51 and 56 beats per minute classifies me — ludicrous as it might sound to physical education instructors I frustrated in high school or anyone who has ever seen me play an organized sport or attempt to throw a baseball  — as an athlete.

I admit it. Giving platelets make me feel good and for at least a few minutes in the prescreening it strokes my ego except for when I have a heart rate above 60. But then again if I’m guilty of a bit of pride or vanity and the tradeoff is someone that is struggling with a devastating health crisis gets platelets, so be it.