From the heart
Randall Pritchett hit a major milestone earlier this month.
The 71-year-old Gresham resident donated his 1,000th platelet unit to the American Red Cross Portland Blood Donation Center — an amount that is rarely achieved. Although those donations have saved thousands of lives, it's never been about the accolades for Pritchett.
"Donating platelets is my way of giving back to the community," he said.
According to the Red Cross, every 30 seconds someone in the country needs platelets. They are a key clotting component of blood that is crucial for cancer patients, surgical patients and bone marrow recipients. To be incorporated with the recipient, platelets must be transfused within five days of donation — so more are always needed because of the difficulty in accumulating a large supply.
Pritchett first began donating blood about 25 years ago after leaving the military. His brother-in-law needed open heart surgery and required about 20 units for his recovery. Pritchett was a match, and decided he wanted to support his family. Since then he's found it's an easy process that lets him give back to the community.
"That is how I got started," he said. "It's now become a serious hobby for me."
During one of his standard blood donation trips, Pritchett picked up a brochure about the need for platelets. Now he donates every two weeks, an uncommon frequency for the Red Cross. His 1,000 units donated is the equivalent of about 125 gallons.
"He has helped so many people through the years," said Anne Marie Kessi, a registered nurse for the Red Cross. "My nickname for Randy is 'the mailman,' because he always delivers. He even will donate in the worst weather."
Platelet donations work a little differently from regular whole-blood donations.
Platelets can only be given at specific Red Cross locations and require an appointment. The machine that extracts the platelets returns the rest of the blood back to your body. That means it requires both arms, one for extraction and the other to return your blood.
The donation usually takes about three hours, and often a platelet donation yields enough for two or three patients. One person can donate up to 24 times a year, much more than the six times you can donate whole blood.
A smaller needle is used for the donation, so many find it more comfortable than a standard blood donation, and because you receive blood back, some donors feel less sluggish afterward.
While the donations address local needs first, they are also sent across the country to respond to any disaster or crisis locations. After donating, the Red Cross lets people know where their blood was sent. Pritchett's platelets have gone to Fort Lewis, Wash., California and Nevada.
"Last week I told my wife I got to go to Las Vegas," Pritchett said with a laugh. "It's nice being able to help people all over the country."
Red Cross Month
Through all of his donations Pritchett has grown close to the nurses who work at the center. Because platelet donations take longer, it provides a chance for longer conversations.
"They are terrific people" at the blood center, Pritchett said. "They come check on you all the time while you donate."
His milestone was celebrated with a party at the donation center. They had a cake thanking him for his donations, and a card signed by all the people who work and volunteer at the local Red Cross.
"We appreciate Randy being a donor, and appreciate all of our donors," Kessi said.
Pritchett's milestone donation came at the start of "Red Cross Month," which is proclaimed by the president each year. It is a way for the organization to thank the people who support it.
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters, supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood, teaches skills that save lives, and provides international humanitarian aid. The not-for-profit organization depends on volunteers and the generosity of people like Pritchett. For more information about the Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org.
With his milestone, he isn't sure where he stands in the record books. There is one man in California he knows of who has donated more, but as he explains it, that guy had a head start. Perhaps someday Pritchett will be celebrating another milestone.
"I plan to keep donating as much as I can."
The steps during a platelet donation include:
-- A small amount of blood is drawn from your arm and goes into a machine called a blood-cell separator
-- The blood is rapidly spun, forcing the platelets to separate from the other blood components
-- Those cells are transferred into a sterile, single-use bag
-- The rest of the blood — plasma, red cells and white cells — is returned to your body
-- That cycle is then repeated several times