DeGowin faces big run on platelets


George Poteracki/The Daily Iowan
Iowa City native Keith Barkalow donates plasma and platelets at the UIHC DeGowin Blood Center on Monday. Barkalow is a biomedical technician for the VA Medical Center. He came to the blood center after hearing about the need for platelets.
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The DeGowin Blood Center is looking for more platelet donations after seeing astronomical demand recently.

Platelet use at the UI Hospital and Clinics has been 50 to 60 percent above normal during the past week because of a strangely high number of sick cancer patients, coupled with an unusual flood of medical and surgical patients, said Judy Levitt, the DeGowin clinical laboratory manager.

UIHC officials said shortages happen randomly throughout the year and there is no way to predict them.

Since announcing the need for more platelets, donations have risen roughly 25 percent, Levitt said, thanks to aggressive appeals to past blood donors to donate again.

However, current donations are still not enough to keep up with the unusually high demand.

The UIHC is receiving enough platelets to satisfy people specifically suffering from platelet-deficiency disorders, but officials said the unexplainable number of cancer patients needing donations is the main reason for the shortage, said Paula Dayton, DeGowin’s donor recruitment coordinator.

She said the center has focused on recruiting students.

“Because of the unpredictable demand, we really need a constant influx of donations to be safe,” Dayton said. “It is not a problem yet because of the local response to our appeals, but we are still actively recruiting more students.”

Many students said they are willing to donate, despite the pain that accompanies the procedure.

“I give blood often, even when they bruise me,” said UI freshman Stefanie Pinkney. “It’s for a good cause, and I am willing to give more if there is a greater need.”

Though donors are made up of a broad range of age groups, Dayton said, it “helps to have students step up to save the lives of their fellow citizens.”

The process of extracting platelets, which are made in red blood cells and promote blood clotting, is hardly more strenuous than gathering blood donations.

The main difference in extracting platelets as opposed to collecting blood donations is time — it takes roughly two hours for platelets, rather than 45 minutes to an hour with blood.

People can give platelets every four weeks, compared with the eight-week wait between giving whole blood. Donors must be healthy for the five days before they give.

The UIHC sees about four times more blood donations than platelets, Dayton said, noting the relatively new extraction technology that can separate blood into red cells, plasma, and platelets.

“A lot of people don’t realize we have those capabilities,” she said. “We’ve found the students who aren’t donating want to do it, but they are just unaware of their ability to give platelets.”

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