It took me just 90 minutes to save someone's life

By Lindsay de Freitas
23 August 2016

Lindsay saved the life of a woman with leukaemia. And you could do the same.

It all started at a routine trip to the mobile blood donation clinic - a trip I had been making since my high school years.

On my way out (after chowing down the delicious biscuits on offer) I stopped at the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) desk set up outside. I had always wanted to register as a bone marrow donor so I completed the form and registered as a donor on their data base.

For the next few months I barely gave it a thought -- until I received an email from the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service (WPBTS). They explained they'd found my details on the SABMR and that I was a perfect match to donate platelets (small disc-shaped cell fragments that help blood to clot) to a woman with leukaemia who needed a transfusion urgently.

They asked if I could do the transfusion the next day. I was a little anxious, I have to admit, and hesitant because work was so hectic. But they assured me the procedure would take no longer than 90 minutes and offered to arrange for a driver to pick me up from home and drop me off at work afterwards.

When I got to the transfusion centre I was met by the friendliest faces who made me feel like I was single-handedly saving the world. I was made incredibly comfortable during the procedure. It actually turned out to be some much-needed down-time - they have free WiFi, you can watch a movie, and they offer you sandwiches and coffee while you're at it.

PHOTO: wikipedia.com PHOTO: wikipedia.com

BUT HOW EXACTLY DOES IT WORK?

During a platelet donation, a small portion of your blood (about 60 ml at a time), is drawn from your arm and passed through what is a truly amazing cell-separating machine.

The machine collects the platelets and then returns the remaining blood components, along with some anticoagulant, back to you. I was told that after the donation I would be able to resume my normal activities but should avoiding heavy lifting or strenuous exercise that day.

I personally felt slightly drained but was able to go straight back to work and managed fine (although one eagle-eyed colleague did say I looked a bit pale).

WHY DO PEOPLE NEED PLATELET TRANSFUSIONS?

The body produces platelets in the bone marrow and a healthy person can have anywhere from 150 000 to 450 000 platelets per microlitre of circulating blood. Platelets are a component of blood that stop bleeding by clumping and clotting blood vessel injuries.

The mystery patient to whom I donated my platelets had developed an extremely low platelet count or thrombocytopenia, a condition that results in bleeding and easy bruising, as a result of her leukaemia.

A low platelet count can also be caused by certain types of anaemia, autoimmune conditions, viral infections such as hepatitis C or HIV, chemotherapy drugs or heavy alcohol consumption.

HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED?

In my case, I had been specifically matched up to a patient but the WPBTS also runs a platelet bank. Doctors prescribe and request platelets from the WPBTS, which then locates a suitable donor to retrieve the platelets from. Contact the Apheresis Unit at the WPBTS on 021 531 0704  for an appointment if you're in the Western Cape. For who to call if you live elsewhere, Visit: www.sanbs.org.za, or call their toll-free line 0800 11 9031. Once you become a donor, you'll be required to complete the standard donor questionnaire.

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. For you to be a perfect match to donate platelets to someone, you and that person don’t necessarily have to share the same blood type.

2. You can donate platelets every three to four weeks as it takes 48 hours for the body to replace its platelet count after a donation.

4. Donors must be between 16 and 65 years old. If you're under 18 you'll need parental consent. All donors undergo health checks to make sure they are strong enough and suitable to donate.

Find Love!

Men
Women