Sachi Churilo understands the symbolism of cherry blossoms.
"Life is kind to me, allowing me to survive with various treatments over the course of nine years," said Churilo, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008. "Just like the cherry blossom, we are here for a brief period of time, but I still have plenty of love and smiles to give."
Through the generosity of people who donate platelets, the Pleasanton resident is able to continue living, loving and giving. Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, does not have a cure but is treatable with ongoing chemotherapy and steroids.
"I currently have a low platelet count due to the chemotherapy," Churilo said. "We cannot live without platelets, tiny blood cells that help the body form clots to stop bleeding. Platelet donations give me another chance to live, another chance to hug and love my family and friends. On behalf of all cancer patients, I thank donors for their kind and courageous acts, and my dear friend Jacky Poulsen who donates platelets."
Livermore resident Jacky Poulsen had been donating blood for years when she was contacted by the Red Cross asking her to consider donating platelets.
"Honestly, I didn’t even know what platelets were, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the process of extracting them," said Poulsen. "Then a good friend of mine Sachi informed me that she needed platelet donations. That got my attention."
Poulsen scheduled an appointment at the American Red Cross Blood and Platelet Donation Center located near Cost Plus World Market in Pleasanton.
American Red Cross Northern California Regional Manager Justin Mueller explained the process for donating platelets.
"Platelet donation is a little different from a regular whole-blood donation. During platelet donation, blood is collected by a device that separates platelets, along with some plasma, from whole blood. Following the separation, the remaining blood components are returned to the donor. The entire process takes about two to three hours," Mueller said. "Many donors find platelet donation more comfortable because a smaller needle is used. And because fluids and red cells are returned after donating platelets, some donors say they feel less sluggish afterwards."
Added Poulsen, "There's no pain other than the little needle pricks. You lie down and an IV is inserted into each arm. Blood is drawn from the left arm, run through a machine that extracts platelets, and then the remaining blood is injected back into your right arm. You can watch a video on a screen attached to each bed. They have a bunch of videos to choose from so the time passes easily."
The American Red Cross recently issued a critical call to the public for platelet donations. Platelets are one of the most in-demand blood products needed by hospitals as they help the most vulnerable patients, Mueller stated.
"Every 30 seconds, someone in the U.S. needs platelets," Mueller said. "Platelets have a very short shelf life – just five days from the time they are donated – so there is a constant, often critical, need for new and current donors to give in order to keep up with hospital demand for platelets."
Adding to the acute shortage, platelet donations decline during the summer due to donors going on vacations and stepping away from their regular routines.
"Doctors and nurses have to locate available and compatible platelets based on blood type," said Churilo. "Unlike whole blood, donating platelets takes about three hours, so it is a commitment. On the other hand, infusion into the patient takes about one hour. During this time, I always count my blessings and thank all those donors for this precious gift."
All individuals in generally good health and meeting the height and weight requirements may be eligible to donate platelets.
"For every person who donates, lives are saved," said Poulsen. "The Red Cross nurse said my platelets would help two or three people. That's pretty wonderful! With just a few hours of my time, it's a good return on my investment."
Donors may donate platelets up to 24 times a year, compared to a maximum of six times for whole-blood donations. Scheduling a platelet donation is as easy as a few clicks on the American Red Cross website, or downloading the Blood Donor App.
For Churilo, these donations are life saving.
"I have to be on chemo constantly, and have lost my hair five times," she said. "It is not easy with the side effects, but life is still good to me. I am happy and content, surrounded by wonderful family and friends. Platelet donation recipients are so blessed and grateful."
"How often do you have an opportunity to save a life, and with such ease?" said Poulsen. "Donating platelets is a very rewarding experience. No cancer patients should die needing platelets that are not available to them."
American Red Cross is located at 5556-B Springdale Avenue in Pleasanton. To learn more, visit www.redcrossblood.org.