BANGOR, Maine — Red Cross blood donors in the Bangor area have a new opportunity to save lives with the recent addition of platelet donation technology.
Platelets are tiny cell fragments manufactured in the bone marrow and essential to the normal process of clotting to slow or stop bleeding.
At an open house at the nonprofit Red Cross Donor Center on Hammond Street on Tuesday, donors and officials gathered to celebrate the recent acquisition of two platelet apheresis machines. The sophisticated centrifuge technology employed by the machines gently separates the fragile but mighty platelets out of the blood se-rum, returning most of the serum, red blood cells and white blood cells to the donor.
“There is a steady demand for platelets,” said Ellen Russell, director of Red Cross blood services in Maine. “Because they are such a fragile product, they have to be collected every day.” A unit of platelets typically consists of a little less than a pint of serum that contains about three tablespoons of platelets. Like all blood products collected at the Bangor center, they will be shipped to a regional processing center in Massachusetts and distributed to hospitals throughout northern New England.
Platelets are essential for treating patients of all ages with certain life-threatening conditions. People with blood disorders such as leukemia, aplastic anemia and thrombocytopenia are frequent recipients, as are those undergoing organ and bone marrow donations or suffering from physical trauma and bleeding. Platelets cannot be frozen and must be used within five days or be discarded.
Dr. Irwin Gross, medical director of transfusion services at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, said new medical and surgical protocols have driven down the need for some blood products by as much as 60 percent.
Still, he said, “the availability of the right blood product at the right time is crucial to providing care to patients.”
The new blood separation technology also allows the donation of blood serum only or a condensed unit of “double reds” — red blood cells.
Donating a unit of platelets takes about three hours, time that donor Christopher D’Amico, 49, of Brewer, plans to use to catch up on his reading. The first to try out the new apheresis technology at the Red Cross center, D’Amico, a pharmacist at EMMC, said he has been a regular blood donor since he was 17.
D’Amico, whose AB blood type makes him a “universal donor,” pointed out that donating blood is easier than donating an organ, or even skin, as some dedicated donors do.
“I can do this regularly,” he said, adding that he gives whole blood about six times a year. Now, he said, he will add platelet donation to his routine.
Apheresis technology also is available at the for-profit Maine Blood Center on Union Street.
The Red Cross Donor Center hopes to recruit enough donors to keep the new apheresis machines busy four days a week. Donations of whole blood are still greatly needed as well, according to donor center staff.
On the Web: www.newenglandblood.org/maine/bangor.htm.