New machine eases blood donation

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Donating blood at United Blood Services is going high-tech with a new machine that enables volunteers to give twice as much at one session with fewer side effects.

Traditionally, donors would give a pint of blood, which was then sent to a lab which separated the red blood cells and other components from the liquid plasma.

The new "automated apheresis" unit by Haemonetics is an electronically controlled device that does all the work on the spot. That allows the device to collect two units of blood, separate the red blood cells from the plasma and then return the plasma to the donor.

In the end, according to Special Services representative Mary Jo Larsen, the donor actually loses a smaller total volume of fluid while donating double the amount of red blood cells.

Blood Service officials demonstrated the unit Thursday at their Carson City facility on Winnie Lane at the same time they held a ribbon cutting to celebrate doubling the facility's size.

Larsen said doctors and nurses at Washoe Medical Center tell them the process is also better for the patient because there are fewer chances of complications when a patient needs more than one unit of blood if both units come from the same donor.

"Then the patient doesn't have to fight off antibodies from two different donors," she said.

And it reduces the costs of checking blood donations for dangerous diseases and other problems because the testing checks two units at one time.

"They're saying give us as many as you can get," she said of the hospitals which have tried the double-unit donations. "They really like this system."

The system, said Larson and spokeswoman Nyla Emerson of UBS, also has advantages for the patient -- not the least of which is that they will only be asked to donate every 16 weeks instead of eight weeks to allow their body to recover fully. And, since they get back most of their own plasma, donors don't feel as weakened by the process.

UBS has one of the units in Carson City and another in Reno but has installed two of them on its mobile unit.

Emerson said UBS officials are hoping the new, automated units will help draw back some of their regular donors.

She said there was a surge of willing donors after Sept. 11 but that some blood service operations collected too much and had to throw out units that couldn't be used before they got too old.

"We weren't one of those," she said. "We expired only 14 units because we cut it off, stopped the draw," she said. "Some others were expiring hundreds of units."

Unfortunately, she said, some donors haven't returned to give again either because they were turned away after the terrorist attacks or because of the reports Red Cross among others had to throw out donated blood.

"We're having a hard time getting them back," she said.


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