21 Lives

During a busy time at work today, my cell phone rang.  I answered without thinking, then looked at the number and saw a toll-free area code.  Arrgh!  A solicitor, I thought — but because I believe in being polite, I answered anyway.

“Hello?” I said, only half-listening and preparing to cut the sales pitch short.

“Mr. Webner, it’s the American Red Cross.  You’ve saved 21 lives with your prior donations.  We’re in need of blood and hope that you will come to the blood drive we’re having in your area.”

“I’m sorry, you’ve caught me at a busy time at work,” I began automatically.  Then I realized it was the Red Cross calling, not a solicitor.  “Wait a minute . . . what did you say about the 21 lives?”

“We calculate that each unit of donated blood saves three lives,” the woman at the other end of line said.  “We use every part of your donation — the plasma, the blood cells, and the platelets.  Since you’ve given 7 units, we think you’ve saved 21 lives.”

It’s an exaggeration, I’m sure — some of the people who’ve received my blood, or part of it, probably weren’t in danger of dying — but it was an effective pitch nevertheless.  It made me feel good to think that I had, possibly, helped some people in their hour of need.  So we discussed my next blood donation.

After having never given blood before, I decided a few years ago to become more civic-minded.  Giving blood is a simple way to lend a hand, and I am embarrassed that I didn’t start doing so until recently.  I’ve tried to make up for my past oversight, however, by becoming a regular whenever the Red Cross comes to the firm for donations.

I’m happy to think I may have touched 21 lives.  It will help to keep me going to the blood drives, rolling up my sleeve, and doing my part for the common good.

Hooked On Alyx, For A Double Blood Donation

Today the Red Cross came to the office.  Blood supplies nationwide are running low; as a country, we’ve had a lot of disasters lately.  I’m a universal donor, and I agreed to help with the shortage by being hooked up to the Alyx machine, which allows a donor to double his donation by giving two units of pure red blood cells.

The Alyx Component Collection System uses a technology called apheresis to permit the double contribution.  Rather than just draining whole blood into a bag, as on a standard donation, the Alyx process runs your blood through a centrifuge to separate the plasma from the red blood cells and then returns the plasma to your system.  The donation involves five-minute periods of depletion, when the donor squeezes the ball and the whole blood is collected, followed by periods of restoration, when the donor relaxes, the red blood cells are stored, and the plasma is reinjected back into the bloodstream.  The process takes somewhat longer than a standard donation, but of course it’s worth it.

I know some people are squeamish about watching their blood being drawn, but I found the Alyx process fascinating.  It’s highly automated and monitored.  You watch a computer screen to know when to squeeze the ball, your blood pressure cuff expands automatically, the blood goes out, the centrifuge whirs, the dark red red blood cells are separated and collected, the cuff deflates, and the plasma comes back.  The whole thing made me feel a bit like a cow being milked, but it was satisfying to know that I was making a contribution to our community.