Platelet Donation: Another way to save lives

by Mike Peacock
ASBP blood donor recruiter

When we hear the word platelet, it is easy to have flashbacks to biology class lectures as we sat in the classroom trying to figure out what exactly a platelet did. And, for some, it may still be something we don’t know a whole lot about.  However, to thousands of patients worldwide these small cells known as platelets mean life.

Platelets, also known as thrombocytes, are small nucleus-free cells found in blood that are essential for clotting.

When blood vessels are damaged, platelets collect at the site to temporarily repair the area. They are used for a variety of reasons, including treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy, bone marrow or stem cell transplants, those with extremely low platelet counts resulting from medical conditions, and sometimes in patients with very heavy bleeding. Whatever the reason, platelets are vital in saving lives.

Like blood, platelets can be needed at any time.  Although platelets do not cure disease, they do provide time for treatments to take effect, a cure to be found and the time necessary for patients to begin to produce their own platelets again.  Platelets can be separated out of whole blood donations, but it takes approximately six units of whole blood to provide a single platelet transfusion, so platelet donors are vital in providing a lifeline to those who need it the most.

So, how does the Armed Services Blood Program get enough platelets to help those in need?

We depend on service members, veterans, their families and Department of Defense civilians in military communities around the globe to donate these precious cells. Platelets, once drawn from a platelet donor, have a shelf-life of five days, meaning the Armed Services Blood Program must have ample, ready and willing platelet donors to meet the huge need.

Platelet donation is similar to whole blood donation in that donors fill out a donor form, have a mini physical and answer questions about medical history and travel. Donors who meet the criteria to donate whole blood generally meet the criteria to donate platelets as well, but there are some added criteria for those donating platelets. 

Platelet donors cannot take aspirin for at least 72 hours prior to donation or ibuprofen for 24 hours prior to donation. To learn more about whether or not you qualify to donate with the Armed Services Blood Program, visit

Platelet donation is done by a procedure known as apheresis — a procedure where blood is drawn from a donor’s vein into a pre-packaged, sterile and disposable kit, which is seated in highly-specialized medical equipment known as a cell separator.
As the blood is drawn and enters the kit, it is separated by centrifugation. Once separated, the platelets are saved and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor via the same vein from which it was drawn.

Because the procedure is slightly more complex than a whole blood donation, it can last up to two hours per donation; however, Armed Services Blood Program staff at each blood donor center make sure their patients are comfortable and relaxed the entire time. It is the perfect time to watch a movie, read or just kick back and unwind.

In one apheresis procedure, one donor can accomplish what it would take six to eight regular whole blood donors to do. Platelet donors can donate about every two weeks and up to 24 times per year.

To schedule an appointment, call the Armed Services Blood Bank Center – Europe at 06371-86-7107/6497 or 486-7107/6497, or visit