“What’s plasma?” was Morley Reid’s response when a Canadian Blood Services (CBS) nurse suggested he would make a good plasma donor — and it’s the same one he gets from people he tells about plasma now.
After finding out he was a good candidate to donate plasma, Reid began going to the clinic almost every week to donate. He said donating has become part of his weekly routine.
Plasma is a yellow liquid substance that holds all the components of the blood together.
The Telegram sat with Reid during his 375th blood donation at the CBS clinic on Wicklow Street in St. John’s. Most weeks he spends this hour chatting with the clinic’s many nurses, who are there to ensure donors are comfortable.
“I keep teasing my wife. I hold Nancy’s hand here almost as much as I hold my wife’s hand,” he said. Reid said though people might be familiar with whole blood donation, not many people know about the need for plasma.
Reid, a dedicated blood donor since his university days, had only donated whole blood until about 30 years ago, when he switched to giving plasma.
Shelley Doyle, production manager for CBS in St. John’s, cleared up the mystery of plasma.
“Anybody can donate plasma,” she said. However, males are often better donors because they tend to have more mass, and larger veins to accommodate a larger needle.
“We have a really good plasma program, and by using our plasma program we can collect a larger volume,” Doyle said.
More substantial donation
About 500 millilitres can be taken from a plasma donation, while about half of that can be taken from a whole blood donation.
During a whole blood donation, the components of the blood are taken as one unit from the body, and later separated in the production lab.
With a plasma donation, the blood is filtered while the donor is sitting in the chair and only plasma is kept.
“The machine draws your blood. It thins it down, and it keeps the plasma components and returns the red cells to you,” she said. Donating plasma takes more time out of the day — about 30 minutes in the chair as opposed to 10 or 15 — but it saves CBS time in the lab. Doyle estimates each unit of whole blood would take two hours to process into its two components, red cells and plasma, if it was done all at once.
Plasma on its own takes the
lab technicians half an hour to process.
Though most blood transfusions require plasma, it is especially crucial during massive transfusions, for burn victims, and for patients with excessive bleeding or bleeding disorders. Plasma causes clotting in the blood, which helps stop the bleeding.
Though the need for plasma isn’t necessarily greater than the need for other blood products, some people are better off donating plasma.
“If your blood group is AB, you are the universal donor for plasma. Your plasma can be used for group O, group A, group B, or AB patients,” Doyle said. “AB red cells are only used by AB patients, but AB plasma can be used by any patient.”
And plasma donors can give a larger amount more frequently.
“A plasma donor can donate up to 52 times a year, where a whole blood donor can only donate up to six times,” she said. Platelets, which, like plasma, can be donated on their own, can be given once every two weeks.
Canadian Blood Services defines an “active donor” as someone who has given blood or a blood product at least once in the last 12 months. Reid’s definition is very different.
“I try to make it in here once a week,” he said.
“With holidays, it doesn’t amount to 52 times a year, but 35 or 40 times a year probably.”
He lives about an hour away from St. John’s — the only clinic in the province where plasma can be donated — so he combines donating with shopping trips. St. John’s is one of just three clinics in Atlantic Canada where plasma can be donated.
Reid said he’s not alone. He knows people who have donated more than 600 times.
“Most of them are plasma donors because you’re able to give once every six days,” he said. For whole blood donors, who can only donate a maximum of six times per year, numbers in the 80s are considered an accomplishment.
On top of being a regular donor, Reid is the CBS clinic organizer in his community.
“It is said that most people don’t donate because they’ve never been asked,” he said. But television ads and bus stop posters don’t seem to cut it — most people are waiting to be asked by a family member or friend.
“Out our way we have six clinics per year, two of which are in high schools so we combine the student clinic with a public clinic,” he said.
A few days before each clinic, Reid goes into the school and addresses classrooms with students who have reached the minimum age to donate — 17 years old — on the need for blood and blood products.
“This is kind of a passion of mine,” Reid said. He said the response from students is usually very good.
With Reid’s encouragement, 35 per cent of students 17 or older at Crescent Collegiate in Blaketown, N.L., have donated.
The hard part is to keep them coming back.
“I have no trouble getting them to donate the first time, second time, third time, but when they finish high school and come to university, I don’t see them and nobody else makes the direct contact that I do,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep after them and keep making contact.”