Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Sunday, 4 January 2009

Platelet donor's thought for food

By Nick Dermody
BBC News

Nick Dermody gives platelets
In the bag: Nick Dermody's platelets are collected

At this time of year I'm usually one of a few hundred people who have to keep an eye on what they eat.

I'm not just talking about moderating the usual Christmas excess (not such a bad idea anyway) but ensuring I have the equivalent of what I consider is a cabbage soup diet for two or three days.

This is so I can give blood. Or more accurately, platelets, that component of blood which helps to stop or prevent bleeding.

I'm one of fewer than 450 people in Wales who regularly donate platelets, and one of just 64 whose combination of blood group, tissue type and accessible veins make me ideal as a donor to vulnerable groups of patients such as babies, bone marrow transplantees and people with cancer.

The cabbage soup challenge is so my blood stream is not coursing with fat at the time of the donation.

I have yet to live down my first donor session which had to be aborted because the platelets, a dark brownish yellow when in good condition, came out glowing like a bag of banana-flavoured e-numbers because I had spent the weekend catching up on some of my mum's cooking.

Platelet machine
The pheresis machine spins the platelets from the rest of the blood

It meant fat was thick in my blood and had attached a globule to each and every platelet, making the medics unable to check their quality, and so the whole lot was useless.

I felt terrible and vowed my dietary frugality near donation day would make Scrooge's supper look like a gourmand having a five-star blow-out.

And, with one or two close shaves, that is what has happened since. So in the past three years or so I have clocked up the equivalent of 100 donations of blood.

This three-figure total has been helped along in no small measure because one platelet session is credited as three blood donations.

Take away

The Welsh Blood Service is happy to do this as a single platelet donation can provide as many platelets as four whole blood donations. And the computer usually sizes me up for a double!

Unlike a full blood donation, my donation uses a platelet pheresis (from the Greek "to take away" or "separate").

It means being hooked up for a little over an hour to something like to a dialysis machine which puts the blood through a centrifuge and spins out the platetlets, leaving the remainder, red cells, white cells, plasma, and so on, to be returned via the same needle.

Blood count: Donating platelets means the pint equivalents soon mount up

And as the blood loss in this process is nowhere near as much as a full blood donation, I can come back for more in as little as three weeks.

So I have made my way to the service's headquarters in Talbot Green, a few miles outside
Cardiff, every three or four weeks or so - holidays, illness and other distractions aside - to do just that.

I guess my motivation is it makes me feel I'm, in a small way, "doing my bit". And of course it has nothing to do with the bragging rights of being a 100-plus blood donor now, is it?

Still less is it anything to do with hoping I can perhaps one day catch up with longer time-served donors who have cranked up as much 700 donations to their name!

There is, however, the realisation that if I did not do it, there might be precious few others to lie on one of the six beds in the clinic, filling its 128 appointment slots each month.


In Wales, 16 hospitals need 10,400 platelet donations each year. Just 6,760 come via platelet pheresis, the rest is pooled from whole blood.

Nick Dermody and Walter Kemp
Walter Kemp keeps watch as Nick's platelets collect in the bag above them

Yet the guidelines on donating are strict. I've been turned away on more than one occasion because I had not recovered enough from a chesty cough or a cold sore on my lip was still on parade at the pre-donation health check.

The rules mean I have no idea who the platelets are going to: male, female, baby, teenager or pensioner.

But I do know that I am occasionally matched with a particular patient and I have been called in specifically to donate for that person.

As it happens, a recent a check-up means I'm required to have some time out again.

So I'm missing out on the clinic's rush to stock up with platelet supplies over Christmas and the new year, supplies that would allow some people to go home for a few days.

I won't have to stick to the cabbage soup diet quite as closely during this festive period.

But it will still give me second thoughts about what I am eating.

From 5 January, platelet donors will be able to continue to donate after their 66th birthday, and whole blood donors after their 70th, provided they have made a full donation in the previous two years.

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