Andrea Fagan, Indiana Blood Center’s Director of PR and Marketing, shares her insights on donating granulocytes.
WIIFM. That classic question: what’s in it for me? On a freezing Friday in January, I sat in a chair in the Indiana Blood Center donor center at 3450 N. Meridian with a small group of dedicated donors who never ask that question. We never think it even when asked to give a very special donation called a granulocyte.
Granulocyte. Rolls off the tongue like sand, doesn’t it? Kinda grainy. It’s a particular kind of white blood cell transfused into patients to help them fight infection. The good people of my organization were planning to take some of mine and give them to an eight year old bone marrow recipient with a life-threatening infection. This is why we blood donors ignore WIIFM, by the way. So I perused the NIH website and Wikipedia, talked to the clinical services staff down the hall, and compulsively shared my new knowledge with friends and family. This “granulocyte” thingy was going to be quite an adventure.
Granulocyte donors take a 24 hour course of steroids, mind their aspirin intake, hydrate, and keep patients in their prayers. Then we are hooked up to a “centrifuge” (holy cow, more big words) and receive a needle in the right arm and another in the left. I’m a platelet donor (one needle!) and think apheresis is cool (you can look that up). It’s high tech. I’d never done a “double needle” procedure before and was fairly giddy with the technical terms and science.
Giving granulocytes is a very special request because of the fragile nature of the recipient’s immune system. Many patients need several days of transfusions so donors are located and scheduled to cover the entire admission window. A donor’s blood must match the recipient’s type AND be free of Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Cells can’t be shaken, dropped, stirred, or disturbed. The bag containing the granulocytes is stat-tested, hand-packed, and rushed to the hospital—expedited to the patient and transfused within an hour or two of donation. Pretty heady stuff—the kind of emergency response that causes adrenaline surges.
The donation takes about three hours, during which donor center staff are calm and collected. Adrenaline wears off and is replaced by a humble quietness. I brought along my Tau and San Damiano crosses—symbols of the healing power of Saint Francis of Assisi. As the small bag (seems too small! Is the cell count adequate?) was removed from the hook and readied for its journey, I told the staff about the significance of the crosses and said a little prayer in my head. Please let what is in me be enough.
On that day, it was.