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NEWS | Nov. 4, 2010

Blood donations save lives around world

By Brian McGloin 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

Anyone who went through Air Force Basic Military Training in recent memory may recall standing on line in the pre-dawn darkness at the blood donation center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

It may seem like an ample supply of blood is drawn from the basic trainees, but the blood donor center has a big quota to fill and the trainees don't provide enough. The blood donor center collects blood from around the San Antonio area at Randolph, Kelly USA and Brooks City-Base.

"We draw more blood than another donor center in the [Department of Defense]," said Robert Purkhiser, technical director of Lackland's blood donor center.

Mr. Purkhiser said in addition to supplying WHMC and the war-fighting effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, they supply blood and blood products to, Veteran Affairs hospital and the Brook Army Medical Centers.

"We need to draw because of who we support," he said. "We try to collect 50 units per mobile blood drive."

"We're trying to take care of our war quota," Mr. Purkhiser said. "We can only draw blood on federal property."

He said each unit of blood - a little more than a pint when the small amounts for testing are added - can be separated into plasma and red blood cells, which makes "two transfusable products from one donation."

In addition to a high quote for O negative blood, the blood donor center has a high quota for the plasma from the AB blood type.

Plasma is the liquid portion of blood and it's about the same color as fresh apple cider. The varying shades of red or blue in blood come from the red blood cells in varying states of oxygenation. Blood also contains platelets, which form clots to stop bleeding, in addition to deoxyribonucleic acid, hormones, antibodies and other chemicals. Blood can be considered a tissue because of its living elements.

Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of the body through a chemical reaction oxidizing with the iron they contain, which turns them from a cool violet to the more familiar red.
The blood donor center uses a process called apheresis to separate red blood cells from the plasma and platelets.

"We are taking one component of blood," said Staff Sgt. Vincent Gella, NCO in charge of the apheresis.

To do this, they have a machine which separates the blood components using a centrifuge device. Like a regular blood donation, a needle is inserted into a blood vessel in an arm. Blood flows through the needle, into a tube and then to a clear bag.
Apheresis is different and takes longer.

The blood flows through a needle and clear tubes like a normal blood donation, but that's where things change.

Blood collects in a round container close in size to half of an average office waste basket. Through a rotating process called centrifuge, the blood components separate by weight. The process is called sedimentation, which is the tendency for the elements of a suspension like blood or pond water to separate from the liquid, and settle against a barrier.

The top of the machine has a series of clear bags similar to the ones used for blood collection in a normal donation. One bag is for any air that may be introduced in the process, and the others are for the plasma and platelets.

Sergeant Gella said red blood cells are the heaviest part so they go to the bottom while the plasma and platelets rise to the surface. The machine needs to be set for different height, weight and hematocrit levels of the donor to separate the elements properly.
Hematocrit is the percentage of red blood cells in a sample of blood. It's measured after centrifuge while the cells are still compacted. Elevated hematocrit levels can be an indication of illegal performance enhancing in athletes.

After plasma and platelets are separated from the red blood cells, and stored, the red blood cells are returned to the donor through the same tube. After the collection process, the bags of plasma need to sit for 48 hours. They sample small amounts of plasma to test for bacteria and contaminants from the collection process.

Sergeant Gella said the process takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete and they prefer blood donors with low hematocrit levels, leaving the higher hematocrit donors to give whole blood, which takes about 15 minutes.

"They are less able to afford having those red cells out of their bodies," he said.
He said the plasma is only good for five days and has to be used locally, whereas whole blood is good for a lot longer and is shipped all over the world. The bags of plasma need to be constantly agitated to prevent coagulation. They are treated with an anticoagulant, but it's not enough.

Blood collected at Lackland and the mobile collections goes to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other places.

Zach Keyes is the component room supervisor at the blood donor center and he oversees the shipping of all the center's blood donations.

He said they ship blood all over the world, mainly using armed services whole blood processing labs, depending on the products he's sending and the destination.
"We supply more than 50 percent of the Air Force's blood quota into theater a week," said Tracey Parmer, blood donation center recruiter.

She said they draw about 50 units of blood on average from Randolph but she wants to collect more.

"My goal is to do 100 a month at Randolph," Mrs. Parmer said.

She said they can only have their blood donations on federal property such as military bases, and not on public or private property, unlike the American Red Cross.

The Lackland blood donor center also has a bus they use for mobile blood donation.
"If you have 10-15 people, we can bring the bus out," Mrs. Parmer said. "A unit just needs 15 people to get the bus."

She said dependents, retirees, Reservists, Guardsmen, anyone who has a DOD common access card can give.

Mrs. Parmer said the Randolph blood drives are scheduled about every eight weeks, or 56 days, apart so when donors are able to give blood after a previous donation, there is a blood drive.

"Everyone can help one way or another," she said.

For more information about blood donation, scheduling a blood drive or related information, contact Tracey Parmer at 292-8145 or