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Firefighter Makes 250th Blood Platelet Donation

As a Fairfax County firefighter with Centreville Station 38's A shift, David Ashley already does his civic duty in a big way.

But he's taken things a step further by becoming a regular and blood-platelet donor. And on Nov. 9, Inova Blood Donor Services honored him at its Centremed facility in Centreville for making his 250th such donation.

"He is one of only about half a dozen in Inova Blood Services' history who have ever reached this level," said Linda Wilson, donor recruitment manager with Inova Blood Services in Fairfax. "He is truly an example of a person who believes in helping his community."

A county firefighter for almost 32 years, Master Technician Ashley, 52, has been with the West Centreville station since it opened in October 1995. A former Sully Station II resident, he now lives in Culpeper.

He was chosen as Fairfax County's Firefighter of the Year in 2000, and one of the reasons was because of his platelet donations. He started giving whole-blood donations in 1983. "Inova encouraged the firefighters to join the blood bank," he said. "And Fire and Rescue Department employees are covered if they or their family members need blood."

SO ASHLEY gave blood 27 times at Inova Fairfax Hospital, later switching to Centremed when it opened. His first platelet donation was on Nov. 28, 1990.

"An Inova employee asked me to think about giving platelets," he recalled. "She said it took about two hours to do and they needed it. It's not artificially made — it has to be donated. Now, I pretty much go every 14 days."

And that's huge, said Beth Visioli with Inova Blood Donor Services. "He's really donating a lot of his time to help other people."

Wilson said platelets are clotting cells, and patients undergoing treatments prohibiting their own bodies from making these cells need platelet transfusions from volunteer donors. So that's why Ashley's efforts are so invaluable.

"He donates through an automated, blood-collection process," explained Wilson. "When a donor has a needle in his arm, as his blood comes out, it goes into a sterile centrifuge which separates the red cells from the platelet cells. The platelet cells are collected in plasma for use by the patient, and the donor's red blood cells are returned to him."

The advantage to the patient, she said, is that "there's a more concentrated amount of platelets in plasma, so plasma is more effective in keeping the patient safe from hemorrhaging. Also, this process only exposes the patient to one donor."

Otherwise, said Wilson, if platelets were harvested in a lab, "it would take six to eight different donors to be able to collect enough platelets for the patient to have one transfusion."

However, she said less people step forward to donate platelets, than blood, because it takes up to 60 minutes more than a traditional blood donation. "But platelet donors get to watch TV, tapes, DVDs, take naps or read," she said. "And an attendant is nearby, at all times."

WILSON SAID people may donate platelets as often as every two weeks, whereas blood may only be donated by one person every eight weeks. "It's very safe for the donor, and there's an increasing demand to provide this life-saving product," she said. To donate, call 1-866-BLOODSAVES (1-866-256-6372) or see www.inova.org/donateblood for more information.

Since Ashley can't donate while he's on duty, he makes the two-hour round trip from Culpeper to Centremed on his days off and then spends two hours donating. But it's worth it, he said, because "you never know when somebody's going to need it."

"He's a cut above the rest because he's made this trip 250 times, over 14 years — and that's amazing," said Wilson. "We're very grateful for his commitment and longevity."

Ashley's wife Romayne, their son Michael and his wife Katie also donate. Said Ashley: "Being a firefighter, you're helping people at their weakest moments, so this is the same kind of satisfaction."

At the ceremony, Inova gave him a heart-shaped pin saying "250 donations" and a $100 American Express gift card. "I appreciate it," said Ashley. "I don't do it for that reason, but it's nice to be recognized."