According to the American Red Cross, about 40 percent of Americans are eligible to donate blood, but only 5 percent do. Memorial Sloan Kettering relies heavily on the generosity of donors to its Blood Donor Program to supply the approximately 40,000 units of blood product (whole blood and platelets) that our patients require each year.
The program’s manager, Joe Licata, encourages people to donate blood and platelets as often as possible – and especially during the winter holidays.
“Blood reserves and the number of blood donations typically drop to dangerously low levels during the winter holidays and summer – the times of the year when people are busiest,” he says. “There is no substitute for human blood, which has a short shelf life: Red blood cells can be stored for 42 days and platelets for only five days. It’s a short-lived resource that constantly needs to be replenished.”
Below Joe answers some frequently asked questions about making blood donations to Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Why do cancer patients need blood and platelets?
By donating blood and platelets, you can help patients fight their cancer.
People with cancer use more blood products than people with any other illness. In fact, many of our patients’ lives depend on blood and platelet transfusions to help them regain their strength and fight infections. It also helps them recover from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, which can reduce the body’s reserve of blood cells and cause anemia and excessive tiredness.
A reduction of platelets may increase the risk for bleeding and life-threatening hemorrhages. Some patients, especially those who have had a bone marrow transplant or who are being treated for leukemia, may require daily platelet transfusions for several weeks.
What is the difference between whole blood and platelet donations?
Whole blood donations involve the collection of every component of the blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. The procedure takes about an hour, and includes time to fill out some paperwork, answer a few confidential questions about your health, and undergo a basic exam of your arm, blood pressure, temperature, and hemoglobin level.
The actual donation of a pint of blood – about eight percent of the body’s total blood volume – takes between ten and 20 minutes. Because the body requires four to eight weeks to completely replace its store of red blood cells, you can only donate whole blood every 56 days.
Platelet donations involve withdrawing 100 milliliters of whole blood at a time, filtering out the platelets, and then returning the remaining blood to your body. The procedure takes about 70 to 90 minutes in addition to the time it takes to complete the registration and have your medical history taken and reviewed. Because your body replaces the donated platelets after 72 hours, you can donate platelets once within a seven-day period. You may donate platelets up to six times in an eight-week period, and 24 times a year.
Who can donate blood – and how often?
Any person between the ages of 17 and 75 who meets our eligibility requirements may donate. Sixteen-year-olds may donate blood with parental consent, and donors over the age of 75 may do so with a physician’s written consent.
Whole blood can be donated every eight weeks, for a maximum of six times a year. Platelets can be donated once in a seven-day period, and up to 24 times a year.
Where and when can people donate blood and platelets to Memorial Sloan Kettering?
Our blood donor room is located at 1250 First Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets in Manhattan. It is open seven days a week, starting at 8:30 AM, with extended evening hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
People who donate blood or platelets on their lunch break can usually return to work or other activities following the procedure. We offer five hours of free parking for our donors.
To learn more, visit Donating Blood & Platelets. To make an appointment, or to ask any other questions, please call our blood donor room at 212-639-7643.
If you live outside the New York City area, you can find more information through the Red Cross.