PNW blood platelet shortage no longer ‘critical,’ but 2,000 donations still needed

May 17, 2022, 6:34 AM
Blood reserves are filtered and processed in the central laboratory of the DRK blood donation servi...
Blood reserves are filtered and processed in the central laboratory of the DRK blood donation service for hospitals and medical practices. (Photo by Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The state’s blood platelet shortage is improving after last week’s low point — which reached Bloodworks Northwest’s “critical” category — but thousands of donations are still needed.

Bloodworks Northwest needs 2,000 platelet donations within the next two weeks. The organization is also low on donation appointments for mid-to-late June; Bloodworks is currently on track to meet less than half the region’s need during those weeks.

Blood platelets are what stop us from bleeding to death when we have a cut or a scrape.

“Platelets are a type of blood cell which helps clot blood, initially,” explained Dr. Sandhya Panch, a hematologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

Washington blood donations running low due to vaccine misconceptions

However, Panch explained that cancer and cancer treatments can cause patients to have low platelet counts.

“In the 1950s and ’60s [before people were able to donate platelets] … most of the deaths of leukemia were not due to the cancer itself, but they were either because of infection or because of bleeding,” she said. “And they found that a lot of these kids and adults with cancer were in fact bleeding because they had low platelet counts.”

As platelet donation was developed for cancer patients, Panch said that “deaths dropped dramatically.” Now, because of donations, cancer patients, people undergoing surgery, those receiving organ transplants, and other hospital patients are able to get the platelets they desperately need.

However, it is a process that constantly needs to keep happening — each platelet donation must be used within five days.

“We all rely heavily on these donors to come in and be able to provide these cells, which are tremendously lifesaving for patients with cancer and other illnesses,” Panch said.

Platelet donations typically go down this time of year, as people go on spring and summer vacations. Unfortunately, the need does not go away — quite the opposite, in fact. Memorial Day is an especially big time for car crashes and outdoor accidents.

Without enough donations, hospitals sometimes need to ration platelets so that only those who need them most receive the donations. Panch said Fred Hutchinson has taken measures during those times such as “giving half-units to patients [with low platelet counts] and saving full units of platelets for people who are bleeding actively.”

The process of donating platelets takes about an hour, during which time donors can watch a movie or read a book. Blood is taken from one arm, the platelets are separated from the blood, and then the blood is returned to the other arm, minus the platelets. You shouldn’t experience any side effects, other than, rarely, fatigue, dizziness, or nausea.

“The satisfaction of having done something good for the community as well as for these patients who are critically ill provides, I think, a great deal of personal joy and contentment from having helped someone,” Panch said.

To donate, visit a Bloodworks Northwest location or Red Cross blood drive near you.

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PNW blood platelet shortage no longer ‘critical,’ but 2,000 donations still needed