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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.