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Ask the Doc

September 2012 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: A family member of mine was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Several years ago I was told that I could give blood and designate my donation for a specific person. Is this still true? I suspect she will need multiple transfusions and I want to help if at all possible.

A: Your willingness to help in this situation is truly generous. And your volunteer blood donations can make a life-saving difference to patients battling leukemia and other types of cancer who often need multiple transfusions to survive.  

It is true that 20+ years ago many blood centers provided the opportunity for individuals to make a blood donation—called a ‘directed donation’—designated for a specific recipient. In this case, the patient or recipient selected a donor and the directed blood collection was ordered by the recipient’s physician. While this donation method is still occasionally done, the reality is that it’s rarely the best way to ensure that a patient safely receives the right blood product, matched to his or her blood type. 

Blood compatibility is a significant issue in directed donations. As you may know, everyone’s blood type falls into one of four groups: A, B, AB, or O. Every blood recipient must be safely matched to a blood donation by type. In addition, each patient has a different type of need – some need platelets or plasma, others need red blood cells. Because of that, it is usually not possible for individuals, friends, or family to donate the right blood products that are of the right blood type for the patient.  

Directed blood products must be tracked and separated from the ‘regular’ blood supply throughout the process—from the time the donation is made, through testing and preparation, to the hospital’s blood bank and, ultimately, to the patient.

In addition, leukemia patients may need many platelet transfusions and may stop responding well to routine platelet transfusions. At that point, specially matched platelets may be needed and it is useful to reserve family members who are more likely to be better matched. Finally, some leukemia patients need a stem cell transplant, where family members are often the preferred donor. Again, it is preferable NOT to sensitize the patient to the proposed donor by blood transfusion as this may increase the risk that the stem cell donation is rejected.

The best way to achieve a stable supply of blood is by garnering support from the entire community, which is one of the most important ways you can help! You can give blood on a regular basis—every 56 days if you are donating whole blood—and help save and sustain the lives of others in the community. You also can volunteer to host a blood drive at your workplace or place of worship. Or you and your family and friends can come together to celebrate your own special “Donor Day” at the Memorial Blood Centers donor center in Duluth. 

Your generous blood donations go directly to help those in need. And right now, in the Ashland area, there are upcoming blood drives sponsored by organizations in the community that would welcome your donation. Please consider making a date to donate at one of the following:

Ashland County Courthouse
Monday, September 24th
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Sponsor Code: 2062  

Shopko
Monday, September 24th 
2:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Sponsor Code: 4028  

Northern State Bank
Tuesday, September 25th
9:00 a.m.  - 4:00 p.m.
Sponsor Code: 2181  

Scheduling an appointment online is fast and easy. Go to MBC.ORG/searchdrives and enter the Sponsor Code for one of the above blood drives. Or call 1-888-GIVE-BLD (1-888-448-3253) to make an appointment by phone.

Jed Gorlin, M.D. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers. Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers.

Send us your questions at askthedoc@MBC.org.

Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives visit About Us.