During the Covid-19 pandemic, we all heard about Plasma Donation. Plasma is one component of Blood. There is another component that is equally important: Platelets.
What are Platelets?
The blood that is collected during a routine blood donation drive is called Whole Blood. Whole Blood has four components:
Red Blood Cells or RBCs
White Blood Cells or WBCs
Platelet is the important blood component responsible for clotting of blood -whenever a blood vessel ruptures, the clot seals the blood vessel and prevents any further loss of blood. The process of spreading across the surface of a damaged blood vessel to stop bleeding is called adhesion. This is because when platelets get to the site of the injury, they grow sticky tentacles that help them stick to one another. They also send out chemical signals to attract more platelets. The additional platelets pile onto the clot in a process called aggregation.
The normal Platelet count in a human being is 1,50,000 to 4,00,000 per cubic millimeter. When this count goes down drastically, there is a tendency to bleed which is life-threatening. In such cases, a person may require transfusion of Platelets.
Ironically, Platelets have a life span of only 5 days after donation. They are available for transfusion either in the form of Random Donor Platelets (RDPs) or Single Donor Platelets. Platelets that are normally available with blood banks are in the form of Random Donor Platelets. These are obtained after separation of components from blood that is collected in routine blood donation drives.
Single Donor Platelets are collected from a donor through a process called Apheresis. Members of the Lifesavers Club form the Core Registry of donors who respond to calls for Platelet Donors.
More awareness needed
Platelet donation is a less known aspect of blood donation, and yet, for patients of dengue or of cancer who are taking chemotherapy, it is a life-sustaining requirement. While not all dengue patients might require platelets, almost all cancer patients on chemotherapy do, and the frequency of chemotherapy cycles makes it difficult for the patient to source donors from the family.
Volunteer donors play a vital role here. Since Platelet donation cannot be done at camps due to the machinery (Platelet extractors or blood fractionators) used, the donor has to be committed to making the trip to the Apheresis centre and spending around 90 minutes in the pre-donation, donation, and post donation time. And there’s someone who has been doing this for nearly twenty years!
Way back in 2002, Father Suren Abreu, a Catholic priest belonging to the Archdiocese of Bombay, started donating platelets in response to an appeal for a small child who had leukaemia. Again in 2014, he donated platelets for another child with leukaemia. He says, “After that donation, the doctor asked if I would consider donating regularly since I had a very good platelet count. I was already a regular blood donor from 1985, and from 2014, I started donating platelets regularly. For the last few years, I have been doing so every two weeks at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Parel, Mumbai.”
Commenting on the need to create more awareness about Platelet donation in India and how the government can play a role in giving it the importance it deserves, Father Suren says, “Some companies recognise the time needed for Platelet donation and allow for employees who are donors to avail of a free half-day off, or to come late to work. The government could assist by making Platelet donation a recognised CSR activity in all companies so that employees can take the necessary time off to become donors. Also, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare could use the NBTC and SBTC (National and State Blood Transfusion Councils) more effectively to spread awareness through Social Media and in educational and corporate institutions on Platelet donation.”
Impact of COVID-19
The pandemic and the associated lockdowns had a hugely deleterious effect on platelet donation primarily by preventing donors from reaching Apheresis centres to donate. Added to the physical difficulty of travelling was the fear of contracting COVID-19 which kept many donors indoors. While the restrictions also reduced the number of cancer patients approaching hospitals, those already on chemotherapy had to continue their sessions, and it became difficult for them to obtain platelets. The earlier limit imposed by the NBTC of waiting 28 days after a vaccine dose before donating platelets also reduced the potential for donors to donate frequently. It is only recently that the NBTC announced that a 14-day-gap was permitted between vaccine dose and platelet donation which made it possible for regular platelet donors to take the vaccine and still donate as usual.
However, fear of the SARS-Cov-2 virus and travel restrictions continue to affect the numbers of platelet donors coming forward. Father Suren hopes that donors (old and new) realise that if they follow the SOPs of mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing, they could easily come to donate platelets and still stay safe.
How safe is Platelet donation?
Platelet donation is completely safe. The donor is thoroughly checked for general health, haemoglobin, vein strength, and on the donation couch is constantly monitored for comfort. Since, in platelet donation, thrombocytes are extracted from the blood and the blood is reinserted into the body through a completely sterile process, there is not even the experience of the mild dizziness that some blood donors have.
“I usually tell potential donors of the amazing gift of life they are sharing with so many people in need since a single donation could be used for up to 2 adults or 3 children on chemotherapy. The process is painless, beyond the small prick of the needle at the start, and after that, the donor has merely to relax on the couch while the platelet extractor separates the platelets from blood taken out in small quantities. It is also important to stay healthy, eat well, drink lots of water, small things to do when you consider the precious gift of life that you could share,” shares Father Suren.
So quite simply, you just need a big Heart to become a Platelet donor. People with A+, B+, AB-, AB+ and O+ blood types should consider donating platelets for optimum compatibility with the largest number of recipients. The universal blood type for platelet transfusions is AB positive (AB+). One of the rarest of all blood types, only 3% of the population has this special blood type. Therefore, those with this rare blood type should definitely consider donating platelets.
If you want be a Platelet donor, you can check out Think Foundation, an organisation doing wonderful work in encouraging blood and platelet donation. Some others include Prana Pan India, Platelet Donors, Tata Memorial Centre, THE RED CAUSE, a social initiative by Suburban Diagnostics and All India Blood Helpline.
Must-read related stories: