First-person: after donor shared hers, I was ready to tell my family’s platelets story

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross

We sometimes ask blood donors to give us a bit of background about why they donate and the experiences they’ve had. I was struck by one particular donor’s comments but was unable to reach out to flesh out the story.

Still, her brief comments about donating and her personal story about needing platelets motivated me to share a bit of my own experiences with donating.

First, her comments: “Donor blood/plasma saved my life. In June 2021, I went in for decreased movement at 31 weeks pregnant while having Covid. Tests showed my baby was struggling and my platelets were dropping dramatically. I had an emergency C-section and went to the ICU where I had [a transfusion of] four bags of plasma and a bag of blood. So grateful me and my daughter are here and thriving. Why donate? You can save a life! And you may need it one day.”

Tom, left, and Steve Ruse celebrate their mother’s 98th birthday recently.

Those last lines really hit home. Years ago, my brother, Steve, underwent intense cancer treatments at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I mean, the whole nine yards. Massive chemo treatments, bone marrow transplant, radiation, the works. He was in it for the long haul. So long in fact that my sister-in-law rented an apartment nearby the hospital (they lived in Kansas City).

During the process he needed platelets and apparently, it’s not always a chip-shot to find a good fit for a donor. Bottom line was that I happened to be a good match. So, I flew down to Houston to donate.

Unfortunately, when my blood was tested, my white blood count was too high, likely on account of a recent cold. The last thing my brother needed was in infection, so I couldn’t donate. I was pretty bummed. He needed this and apparently couldn’t find an ideal donor! I was told if I waited a few days my virus infection might diminish to the point that I could safely donate. So, I had an unexpected longer stay in Houston. I visited my brother, my sister-in-law and I spent time finding some great eateries in the area. I even visited a long-lost cousin who lived there. A few days later I was cleared to donate – all good.

Even if you have a lot on your “Plate-Let’s” talk about donating

Donating platelets is a bit different than the whole blood donation most people are familiar with. They take it out of one arm, extract platelets, then put the blood right back in the other arm. It’s no more difficult than giving a pint of blood, it just takes a little longer. Figure two-to-three hours.

Steve recovered and was cancer free for 10 years before he got a second bout. His treatments this time were also quite intense but were able to be done at home in Kansas versus having to go to Houston. So I donated again; this time it was while I was visiting for Thanksgiving.

More good news, Steve’s second bout with cancer was 21 years ago! He’s bounced back and is doing great, spending lots of quality time with his grandkids when he’s not on the golf course. Or vice versa.

American Red Cross donors save thousands of lives each year with generous donations of blood, plasma and platelets. Photo by Michelle Frankfurter for the American Red Cross

Of course, the true heroes in this story are the medical staff. And Steve is the biggest hero of all, with his tenacity and sheer will to kick cancer’s ass. I’d say he’s a walking miracle, if there ever was one.

“It’s hard to put into words really”, Steve shared, “how special and inspirational it is when you experience receiving a donation, especially when you know it was specifically for you”.

“You can save a life! And you may need it one day”

Indeed! Just as that donor said recently. And as I’ve reflected on with my own platelet donations. I invite you to consider the uniquely rewarding experience of helping others by donating platelets, plasma or blood. Find a drive or donation center near you and make an appointment at RedCrossBlood.org or by calling 800 RED CROSS.

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