by Christine Doronio
Your blood is made up of four main components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma.
When you donate blood, you can either donate ‘whole blood’ (a pint of all four parts), or just plasma or platelets.
When donating blood, plasma or platelets, an IV is attached to a vein in your arm. About a pint of blood is removed and stored in a collection container. If you are donating whole blood, that’s it, you are done. Have a cookie and go home.
If you are only donating plasma and platelets, the process takes longer. After extraction, you remain hooked to the IV while your whole blood is sent to a machine with a centrifuge in it. A centrifuge spins things very fast, and this separates your blood into its various components. The platelets or plasma that you are donating are stored, and the rest of your blood and fluids are returned to you.
This process is repeated a few times. This allows more plasma or platelets to be donated then if you just donated a pint of whole blood.
After you donate your plasma or platelets, and then get the rest of your fluids returned to you – you too get your cookie and can go home.
Do not forget the cookie. In fact, remember to eat a big, protein filled meal before you donate.
What are plasma and platelets?
Plasma, which is made up of mostly water, is the liquid portion of blood that carries essential ions, enzymes, and proteins necessary for bodily function. This includes antibodies that are generated as an immune response during an infection.
Platelets are the parts of our blood that clot together to stop bleeding. When you get a cut, the platelets stick together to form a temporary scab over the cut while your body can more completely heal. Diseases can cause low platelet counts in some people – which can be very dangerous as even a small cut or wound can become a serious injury if the bleeding cannot stop. Donated platelets are used to supplement natural platelets for those in need.
What is convalescent plasma?
Convalescent plasma is plasma that contains antibodies from a recent infection. Plasma therapy has been used in the pass to treat viral outbreaks including SARS, Ebola, and Measles. Recently, convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients was approved by the FDA as an emergency therapy for current patients with COVID-19. In theory, treating patients with convalescent plasma provides them with antibodies that supplement their immunity without having to wait for the body to generate their own. There has been considerable debate over FDA issuing the emergency use authorization (EUA) for plasma treatment. The science is still debated on its effectiveness because the plasma studies conducted have had a small number of patients and/or no control group, making it difficult to draw a scientific conclusion.
Should you give plasma? If you are interested in helping science find answers about a potential treatment for Covid-19, and you have had Covid-19, yes, give plasma.
If you haven’t had Covid-19, or you aren’t sure about the plasma thing, think about giving blood. Blood and platelets are used in many medical situations and can save lives.
For more information on convalescent plasma therapy and resources for donation:
Seeker video: What Is Plasma Therapy & How Does It Help Fight COVID-19 NOTE this video is from May 2020. As of August 23, 2020 the FDA has approved emergency use of convalescent plasma for treatment
Kid friendly video on plasma and how the donation process works: Plasma Donation 101
Kid friendly resource on the components of whole blood: Components of blood