Craig Richey first donated blood when he was in high school. The experience left him feeling light-headed and in no hurry to do it again. Now the Herndon resident donates platelets and plasma every two to four weeks at Inova Blood Donor Services.
"It seems like I'm volunteering for community service or something," Richey said. "I can sit here and do work, read things to catch up on."
Kristin Gross, assistant director of marketing and business development for Inova Blood Donor Services, said that 60 percent of the population is eligible to donate blood, but only 5 percent actually does.
In Richey's case, he is AB+, which makes him a universal donor for platelets and plasma, so instead of waiting to give blood every eight weeks, he donates his platelets every couple of weeks.
GROSS SAID there is a blood shortage in the metropolitan-Washington D.C. area. Inova Blood Donor Services provides blood and blood products to 15 hospitals in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District.
For some blood types, the need has become critical. For example, on Nov. 21, Inova's inventory records showed that out of a desired 75 units of O- blood, there were zero on the shelves. The desired number of B- is 45 units; Inova had eight. And even O+ was down to 147 of a desired 185 units.
"We see a spike during the holidays, a downward spike," said Gross. "People are busy with shopping and family. The holidays is such a difficult time for us."
To help make it easier, Inova has begun using an automated blood collection system, which collects the blood, separates into red blood cells, platelets and plasma. The needed components are collected, while the others are returned to the donor as part of a sort-of continuous feed through the arm.
Richey sits at one of the machines for about an hour and half to have his platelets collected. And he's actually afraid of needles, he said.
"I've been donating regularly since January 2001," Richey said. "My mom [who is also AB+] got me started. She's been donating blood for about 15 to 20 years and platelets for about five years. I just felt I should do something."
THE AUTOMATED MACHINES are also being used for what is called double red donations. During a double red donation a person can donate two units of blood in one seating because the platelets and plasma are returned to the body. Typically during a whole blood donation a pint of the person's blood — red blood cells, platelets and plasma — is collected. A whole blood donation takes about an hour, including the registration, medical history questions, mini physical, donation, and drinks and cookies afterwards. A double red donation only adds about 20 minutes to the total time, Gross said.
"We're trying to increase the amount of the donation and the collection amount of red blood cells patients need," Gross said.
Once the blood is collected, it is subjected to 12 federally required tests. It takes about 48 to 72 hours for a donation to be available for use. Blood can be stored for up to 35 days.
The minimum requirements to be a donor include being at least 17 years old; generally in good health; and weighing at least 110 pounds. Potential donors are also required to eat a good, healthy meal and drink plenty of hydrating fluids before making a donation.
Double red donors are typically male; weigh at least 150 pounds; are between 17 and 60 years old and meet other eligibility criteria.