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Red Cross Gets Automated Blood Donor Center

Sue Repko

In 1990, Princeton resident Marsha Weiss began feeling sick and noticed bruises forming all over her body. A blood test revealed that she had low platelet and red blood cell counts; and, she was diagnosed with Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP).

The disease had until then almost always been fatal; but a new technique called plasmapheresis, in which only the plasma portion of blood is removed and exchanged with donor plasma, had recently been shown to turn the odds in favor of stricken patients.

Friends and colleagues donated large quantities of blood to come up with enough plasma to save her.

"I had several rounds of plasmapheresis, and I was better after a week or so," she said. "I never would have made it without all those donors."

Red Cross Tour

The American Red Cross of Central New Jersey will be celebrating the opening of a fully automated Blood Donor Center this week, and participating in the nation-wide Save A Life Tour.

Automated centers allow simultaneous separation of blood into its three components while donations are being made.

The Save A Life Tour began in May in Los Angeles as a campaign to increase public awareness of the nation's critically low blood supply. The campaign aims to result in the collection of three million blood donations nation-wide and to encourage eligible donors to give blood regularly.

Two Red Cross convoys have made their way across the country and will be arriving in Princeton on Monday, October 27.

The visit will feature a 95-foot-long mobile museum equipped with interactive kiosks and displays that teach about blood donation.

The Princeton stop will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. at 707 Alexander Road.

Children are welcome to come to learn more about blood donation. The mobile museum will also give visitors the chance to record their own testimonials about either giving or receiving blood.

"New Jersey has a chronic shortage of blood," said Susan Sponar, communication director for the American Red Cross Penn-Jersey Blood Services Region. "According to our figures, one out of every three units distributed in the state's hospitals are not collected in the state."

To begin with, only about 5 percent of the nation's eligible population currently gives blood; and recent changes in eligibility rules have resulted in the deferral of certain categories of donors. Furthermore, shortages typically accrue during the summer and winter holidays when people are busy or vacationing.

New Jersey Acts

Last May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricted the donor pool nation-wide in response to fears of the possible spread of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or Mad Cow Disease.

The new rules exclude donors who had spent three or more months in the United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996 or five years in France since 1980. Current or former military personnel and their dependents, who lived on military bases in Europe during 1980-1990 or southern Europe during 1980-1996, are also excluded.

While these restrictions are meant to protect the nation's blood supply, so far there has been no evidence linking blood transfusions with the spread of Mad Cow Disease.

"We've got to grow the blood supply by getting more donors, or by getting those who already donate to do so on a regular basis," said Ms. Sponar.

To increase the pool of eligible donors in New Jersey, Gov. James McGreevey signed legislation a year ago that allows 17-year-olds to become blood donors without parental consent. Previously, parental consent had been required.

Automated Centers

One way to make the most out of current blood donations will be the arrival of the region's first and only fully automated Blood Donor Center.

Blood is made up of three main components: red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. With automation, donors can give either whole blood or blood components.

Whole blood is usually separated into its components after donation. But oftentimes one component is in greater demand than the others. With automation, blood can be separated at the time the blood is being drawn, and the needed component can be taken in a greater quantity from a tube in one arm, while the other components can be returned safely through the same needle.

Similar to the technology that saved the life of Marsha Weiss in 1990, the Blood Donor Center will be able to make more efficient use of blood donations.

Without automation, it takes six different whole blood donors to produce one unit of transfusable platelets. With automated blood donations, collection centers can respond to the needs of patients more quickly by collecting the blood components that are in greatest demand.

One Donor at a Time

The equipment itself is about the size of a typical washing machine. "We're retrofitting space now to accommodate the equipment," said Candie Hayes, director of communication and development for the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey.

Only one donor can be hooked up to the machine at a time. A sterile, disposable tubing kit is used for each donor, so that none of the donor's blood comes in contact with the machine. Small amounts of blood are taken out, separated, and then the unneeded components are returned via the same tube and needle.

The donation will take a little longer than a non-automated donation – up to 100 minutes, depending on the parts of the blood that are needed – but one donor could end up helping several people as a result.

The Blood Donor Center on Alexander Road will have regular hours during the week and weekend hours. Donors can call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE to schedule an appointment.

Donations Save Lives

The story of Marsha Weiss didn't end with her own recovery only. Little did she know, but when she was afflicted with TTP she was in the early weeks of pregnancy.

"A few weeks after I left the hospital, I was back at work and fell asleep at my desk. Shortly after that I found out I was pregnant," she said.

"At that time, the doctors didn't know anyone who had survived TTP and then a pregnancy. So, all that donated blood saved not one life but two," she said. "I had a perfect pregnancy, and our son, Evan, recently turned 13. Without donated blood, neither one of us would be here today."

Donors are needed as well as volunteers to help run the Blood Donor Center. Volunteers can call 609-951-8550. For more information about the Red Cross, visit www.njredcross.org.

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