908th Airman makes live-saving donations

  • Published
  • By Gene H. Hughes
  • 908th Airlift Wing
Whenever members of the 908th have to go somewhere, Senior Master Sgt. Connie Rollins is there, tirelessly working to make sure they have what they need. Outside the office, she's doing her part to help those in desperate need of medical treatment get what they need.

Rollins donates platelets, which according to the Oxford Companion to the Body, platelets are necessary "for the process of clotting when blood vessels are damaged, both by providing necessary hormones and proteins for coagulation."

Patients who have a bone marrow disease, such as leukemia, often experience excessive bleeding due to a decreased number of platelets.

She began donating in 1989 while stationed at Barksdale AFB.

"I didn't know what it was, but I was on the bloodmobile donating whole blood and the lady asked me if I'd ever considered donating platelets," she said. "She gave some brochures. I read them, tried it and been doing it ever since.

Almost anyone able to donate blood and not taking anti-coagulants such as aspirin can donate platelets. Blood is drawn and placed in a centrifuge, where the platelets are separated from other blood products. The platelets are checked to ensure certain factors meet the standard.

"If they're not high enough, you can't donate," Rollins said. "I've been turned away at times when my count would be too low. If you're eating really good it's high, if you're dieting, it'll be low."

The rest of the blood is returned to the body, instead of being collected as it would be in a regular blood donation. The procedure takes from about 90 minutes to two hours.

Once collected, platelets only have a shelf life of about five days, and one donation provides only a sixth of a platelet transfusion. Since bone marrow transplant patients often require up to 120 units of platelets, new donations are required each and every day.
"After three visits, the machine will take the count average of the three donations and calculate the necessary time, and will recalculate after a few minutes," Rollins said. "It'll usually go down a few minutes, but mine's usually between 70-90 minutes. It was only 70-something last time. My count's been really high the last three times.

It hasn't always been that way. She stopped donating for almost a year in 1996, when her iron factors were too low during a couple of visits, so Rollins asked the nurse why.
"Stress," the nurse replied. "Do you have anything stressful in your life right now?"
 
"I'm in the middle of building a house," Rollins answered. "Do you think that has anything to do with it? She said, 'Probably.' So I quit while we were doing the house.

While it takes less time to harvest whole blood, platelets can be donated more frequently. Rollins currently makes a donation at least once every month, as opposed to the eight she would make if giving whole blood.

She also gives twice the standard amount. She said a contributing factor is she doesn't experience the drained feeling often resulting from giving whole blood, and she's getting most of the material back right away.

Making donations runs in the family. Rollins' father got the family started, signing permissions for her and her sister to donate until they were old enough. Since they lived in the country, donations couldn't be made unless a bloodmobile came by.

Rollins is also on the list to donate bone marrow also, as is her husband (Master Sgt. Tim Rollins of the 908th Maintenance Squadron). But unlike whole blood and platelets, bone marrow is very hard to match.

"My husband had matched with someone in D.C. one time," Rollins said. "He was going to go, and then they called him the next day and said they found an even better match than him, which is amazing when it's hard enough to match anybody in the first place."

Although she's been told of certain persons in need of her donation, she's never met anyone on the receiving end of her gift. She said she'd like to if given the chance, not as a "attaboy," but just to have personal contact with the end result of her donation.

She'll keep donating as long as she can, and would like to help recruit more donors. The satisfaction of helping others is her reward.

"It doesn't cost me anything except time," Rollins said. "It's not a very big part of your day to help somebody. Your body produces it naturally, and there's nowhere else they can get it. I just like helping people like that. I can make somebody's day."

DONATING PLATELETS

 Platelet donations are collected at select American Red Cross donor centers only.

 Donors should not take any aspirin or products containing aspirin 48 hours before donation.

Most healthy people who weigh at least 110 pounds and are age 17 or older are eligible to donate.

 The donation takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours and may be a single or dual arm procedure depending on the device used.

 To pass the time while you donate, you may listen to music or simply relax during the process. Most donation centers offer TVs or DVD players.

 Before donating please be sure to eat foods rich in calcium and iron and drink plenty on fluids.

 Call (800) 374-4272 for information or to make an appointment to donate.