The power of platelets

"Every single one of those transfusions has been lifesaving."

After leukaemia turned Gennaro’s life upside-down, donated blood and platelets helped him stay strong, and survive.


Platelet and blood recipient Gennaro playing with his kids on the grass

Why donate platelets?

What are platelets?

Platelets are tiny fragments of cells made in your bone marrow. So tiny, in fact, that you’ll find about 250 million in every millilitre of blood — it’s hard to imagine!

How long do they last?

7 days. 168 hours. It’s barely any time at all, when you think about it. But that’s how long platelets last from the moment they’re donated. We have to move fast.

How do they help?

Platelets clump together to stop bleeding, seal wounds and help ‘plug’ leaks in damaged blood vessels. Ever had a scab? That’s right — those are thanks to platelets.

Lady holding a blue question mark
Who do platelets help?

People with leukaemia or going through treatments like chemotherapy can have their platelet counts become so low that they have spontaneous bleeding.

Even a small amount of bleeding is dangerous, but it’s especially so if it happens in the brain. Enter platelets: they can stop that from happening by clotting the bleed. 

Platelets can also stop bleeding during surgery or after major trauma, from a workplace accident to a shark attack. 

illustration of an orange platelets pack
Can I give platelets?

Not everyone can give platelets, but we love your enthusiasm! On top of our normal criteria to be a blood donor, you also need to have given plasma before and be male. 

The male-only requirement may seem strange, but it’s because of a serious condition called transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI). It’s a rare, but sometimes fatal, condition that can lead to breathing difficulties and low blood oxygen in patients after a transfusion. It’s thought to be caused by antibodies (proteins produced by the immune system which attack foreign substances) found more commonly in the blood of women. 

Your platelet donation essentials

How does platelet donation work?

It's a lot like donating blood, and just as rewarding. The process is called ‘apheresis’. It might sound complicated, but it’s just another word for how we collect platelets (and plasma, too). 

While you’re resting in a comfortable chair, a special machine draws blood from your arm. The machine separates the blood out to collect the platelets along with some plasma. Your red cells and most of the plasma are then returned to you.

Donating this way means you give anywhere from 4 to 12 times as many as you would in a normal blood donation! And, on top of that, you can do it more often — as often as every 2 weeks. 

Are there any side effects?

Nothing long-term, but you might feel some tingling on the day. It’s because we use an anticoagulant called citrate. It helps us return your red cells to you, and makes sure everything goes smoothly. But, it can also cause a temporary drop in the level of calcium and magnesium in your blood during donation.

You may experience a metallic taste, tingling around the mouth and tongue, and less often tingling in your hands or feet.  

You can reduce the chances of that happening by eating foods high in calcium, magnesium and potassium both on the day and the day before (like dairy, fresh fruit, green vegetables, nuts and beans), and ask for a calcium supplement when you arrive. 

And in good news, your iron levels are a lot less likely to be affected because your red cells are returned to you (yay!). 

How long it takes

Donating takes about an hour, and you can use that time to read, catch up on your favourite TV shows or just enjoy some uninterrupted down time. 

Leave about 2 hours for the whole appointment, which includes meeting with a friendly staff member before your donation and having a complimentary snack and drink after.


How often can I give platelets?

As often as every 2 weeks, if you like, or 4 weeks after a blood donation. Many donors find once a month fits into their routine nicely, but everyone is different.

Changing more lives more often? Yes please.

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