Sunday, January 07, 2007

Be a hero or heroine: save a life through blood donations!

I like reading science fiction and fantasy. And I most like those books whose plots unabashedly offer a clash betwen good and evil, with the stakes being the future of humanity or the universe. Hey, if you're going to write (and read) fiction, why not put it all on the line?

[ One of my favorites: the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. It is a rigorous first person narrative -- you only see and hear and know what the "I" character sees, hears and knows. That's my favorite form. It's very hard to write, but it is the most rewarding. Beyond that, it is a great story line. Check it out. ]

Certainly, one of the central appeals (to me, and I believe to others) of these books is the heroics of the main characters. Saving the world, saving your loved ones, saving hundreds, thousands, millions of lives -- what a great thing to be able to do!

But for just about all of us, such heroics are out of the question. Or are they?

Sure, we probably can't save the lives of millions, but wouldn't it be great if you could save the life of even one person, or perhaps dozens?

I've been doing just that for the last twenty-five years, and it makes me feel great.

How am I able to achieve such heroic accomplishments? By donating platelets and white blood cells on a more or less monthly basis through a procedure called apheresis. In fact, last October (2006), I celebrated my 100th platelet donation in Chicago, with a small party at the Norridge Lifesource center.

You are very likely familiar with the idea of donating blood: you visit a donor center (or a mobile unit visits your workplace or institution), and in just a few moments the trained staff will extract a pint of your blood. This act alone with help save lives and make you a hero.

Apheresis is a variation on that theme. Rather than simply remove a pint of blood (which can only be done every 52 days), blood is taken from one arm and run through a complicated and very impressive machine built by Baxter Laboratories. This machine centrifuges the blood, isolating its various components. Lifesource keeps the white cells and platelets, and gives me back the rest of my blood through my other arm.

These blood components are critical for patients with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and for others who have undergone surgery.

I especially enjoy my apheresis donations because the procedure takes upwards of two hours. That means that I am forced to stop working, and I get to watch a movie. Afterwards, I enjoy all sorts of free snacks and drinks (my favorite snack were the Lorna Doone cookies, but Lifesource swapped those for Oreos. Very disappointing, but I decided to not let that get in the way of my continuing donations).

You can also donate white cells and platelets more often than whole blood. More movies. More snacks. More opportunities to save lives. Because that is what I am doing. There is no way to know for sure, of course, but I think it is reasonable to think that my donations have saved (or helped to save) the lives of dozens of fellow human beings.

I like that. I am a hero.

And you can be, too, with little or no sacrifice on your part. Your body replenishes your white cells, your platelets, your whole blood. It is a wonderful gift to give to another person. All it takes is some of your time.

Please....if you have never donated blood before, visit the nearest blood donor facility and give it a try. If you used to donate, but fell out of the habit, make room for it in your life again. And if you can spare the time, please consider becoming an apheresis donor. They are harder to find, but oh so important.

Then hopefully someday you can, too, celebrate your 100th donation!

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