1 minute readBlood

What Is It Like to Give Platelets for the First Time?

When asked if anyone on our team would be willing to give platelets to demonstrate the process to potential donors, I offered to volunteer. Granted I didn’t know what I was signing up for exactly. Having never given blood, I’d always wanted to become a donor at some point. It sounded like a good way to give back, especially during the holiday season when budgets are tighter and giving financially is more of a stretch.

But the idea of giving platelets seemed a bit mysterious to me. Thankfully, I knew I wasn’t the first to ask the question: what are platelets, anyway? And what is the donation process actually like?

Here’s what I learned:

“It’s Like a Visit to the Spa, Sort Of”

Spending time at a spa is usually about much more than getting a fun treatment. It’s a rare treat to just find time to relax and put your feet up. Giving platelets gave me an opportunity to put my headphones on, sit in a lounge chair and have a little me time.

“Sitting Back Can Save Lives”

Before signing up, I had no idea that every 30 seconds someone in the United States is in need of platelets. Plus, I learned that just one platelet donation can help up to 3 people. For example, I didn’t know that cancer patients undergoing treatment experience low platelet counts as a side effect that often requires platelet transfusions. It was humbling to know that just two hours could have such a profound affect and help save lives.

“Roll Up Not One, But Two Sleeves”

Unlike giving blood, platelet donations require the use of both arms. During the process, whole blood is drawn from one arm, then a machine extracts the platelets and returns the rest of my blood components into my other arm. It’s actually fascinating to watch!

“It’s Time to Chill Out, Literally”

Before donating, I was told that I’d have warm blankets draped on me throughout the process. I later learned that a cold sensation is normal when giving. It’s no more uncomfortable than eating a snow cone, and the blankets only add to the spa factor to help you chill out.

“Platelets Expire Faster than My Carton of Milk!” 

While the expiration date on a carton of milk can stretch long past a week from first buying, platelets have to be used within five days. That means platelet donations are constantly needed, especially during the holiday season when so many are traveling or out of town.


Learn more about platelet donations and how you can help make a difference at redcrossblood.org/platelets.


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  1. I didn’t take my baby aspirin for 72 hours, gave platelets, napped and got left chest pains. I took 2 baby asprins, they helped a little then over next 3 days took baby asprins daily and feel great.
    Was it the platelet loss or the Asprin loss?

  2. While donating platelets is time consuming, it’s a lifesaver for cancer patients. The donor should eat a good meal before & be prepared to be at the donor center 2+ hours (longer if your platelet count is high & they can do a double). You can’t fall asleep or else the machine dings. You have to squeeze when the machine draws the blood & then relax on the return. You get all your red blood cells back, so you’re not as tired as you are after donating whole blood.

  3. Hi Margie, Many lifesaving medical treatments for patients require platelet transfusions: Cancer patients, those receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, victims of traumatic injuries, and patients undergoing open heart surgery.

  4. I asked about donating platelets and they said I wasn’t tall enough. How tall do you have to be to donate platelets?

  5. I went to my nearest Red Cross in Canoga Park or Warner Center, (one of the two cities) to donate platelets. I was given all instructions by phone. In tge past when I donated blood, I’ve seen people laying there by an apheresis machine and always wonder what was that all about because to me they look like patients getting blood transfusions but when I asked, it was explained to me what they were doing and what the machine do. The nurse asked me if I wanted to volunteer sometime but I told her that I would think about it, so, one day I got a phone call asking me to volunteer to hive platelets because there was a shortage and an emergency for platelets and plasma so, I volunteer. I was told what to expect but it would never be tge same to hearing about it than actualy going through it. My MISTAKE not theirs! Was that I didn’t stop drinking water two hours before the procedure the way I was told, so, when the chemical started getting through my system it felt like it was pushing my bladder and so there was an urgency to urinate real bad! They told me I could stop anytime but I didn’t want to be a party pooper and I try to take it like a good soldier until I started to feel nauseated and faint to which a couope of nurses came to my rescue right away! They put me up side down and brought cold compresses to place on my neck and moist my forehead plus tgey disconnected me from tge machine. Afterwards whe I was stablelized they connected me back on. The staff at Red Cross were wonderful and understanding. I look forward to donate for a second time but next time I won’t forget to stop drinking water not two but three hours before! See you next time Red Cross.