Donating Plasma

With my slightly misshapen heart it’s not a good idea for me to reduce my red blood cell count by donating blood.

Fortunately, I can still donate a different way.

There are three different parts of your blood that are separated out after you donate, red blood cells that carry oxygen, platelets that clot injuries, and plasma which is the actual liquid part of your blood.

Good news for me, most anyone can donate each of these blood components individually!

Red blood cell donations are out for me. That’s why I’m staying away from whole blood donations in the first place.

I have enough platelets for myself but when the clinic tested my levels they said I don’t have enough to donate to other people.

That leaves plasma.

When I went to the clinic for a plasma donation all the preliminaries were the same, heart rate, blood pressure, hemoglobin levels, and check the arms for signs of intravenous drug use. One additional test was checking my body weight to see how much plasma they wanted to draw out.

I laid down at the donation cradles like I would for a whole blood donation, but instead of getting hooked up to a little bag I got hooked up to a dishwasher sized machine.

It also makes a sound like, "WHHHRRRRRRR."
It also makes a sound like, “WHHHRRRRRRR.”

The machine draws blood out of a donor, separates out whatever blood component they are donating, and then puts the rest of their blood back in.

The separation is done using a centrifuge contained in the body of the machine. The centrifuge spins really fast once the donor’s blood is inside of it. The denser blood components, red blood cells and platelets, go to the outside of the centrifuge while the plasma stays on the inside. The machine puts the plasma into collection bags and returns the leftover parts to the donor.

Each “spin” takes one minute and collects about 20ml of plasma. I was set to donate 800ml so the actual donation took about 40 minutes compared to about 8 minutes for a whole blood donation.

I read my book for a little bit while donating but then the little lap DVD players they had enticed me.

Nevermind that it was the same book that motivated me to start this blog.
Nevermind that it was the same book that motivated me to start this blog.

They had a huge selection of DVDs (~400). I requested Iron Man 2 and watched the first couple minutes of it as my donation finished.

The wind-down process of a plasma donation was exactly the same as a whole blood donation. Held my arm over my head for a minute, got bandaged up, ate some snacks, drank some water, and left. I also made an appointment for donating again in a month. Gotta finish that Iron Man movie even if it takes 4 more donations!

The aftereffects of the donation were my biggest concern. I didn’t want to get heart palpitations for weeks afterwards because of reduced red blood cell counts.

Fortunately, donating just the plasma of my blood worked out fine. I had some flutteries and felt light-headed for 24 hours afterwards, but that was all. No persistent effects, so no worries! I plan to continue donating plasma.

And of course I am obligated to encourage you to donate as well. It’s free! It’s easy! It comes with hundreds of free movies and cookies! What more could you ask for?


Heart Problems

A couple months ago I mentioned to my wife, “After I started giving blood regularly I’ve been getting the heart flutters a lot me often.”

And she said, “Heart flutters?”

“Yeah, you know, when your heart feels like it’s beating faster for a second or two?”

My wife informed me that this was not a normal feeling and that I should go see a doctor. Big surprise to me!

I went to the doctor and she concluded that I was probably having heart palpitations. Not unusual. About one third of people have them with some frequency.

I’d been getting mine about once or twice a week, often in association with exercise.

The doctor did a bunch of tests and found two things.

  1. The right ventricle of my heart is a little bigger than it should be. The ventricle is bigger so there’s more blood in it, but it doesn’t exert enough pressure to remove as much blood as it should per beat. Since it can’t pump everything out there is a slight backflow into my heart. This small disruption in my bloodflow might occasionally be causing heart flutters.
  2. I was suffering from acute anemia, not enough hemoglobin for my red blood cells. This was due to giving blood. One of the symptoms of anemia is heart palpitations caused by my heart not getting enough blood. There just isn’t enough of the stuff in my body to keep everything working all the time.
Obviously my heart is much prettier than this.
Obviously my heart is much prettier than this.

I asked the doctor, “What do I do? This has a small risk of a heart attack and I want to control that risk as much as possible.”

She said I should avoid things that trigger the heart palpitations and if I experienced any additional symptoms of a heart attack at the same time as the flutters I should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Haven’t had any additional symptoms yet, so I’m good on that count!

Avoiding the triggers has been… difficult.

Giving blood was the biggest one. I stopped doing that.

I’d like to continue giving blood and I still have the option of donating plasma. Plasma is the actual liquid part of your blood, not the cells. Giving just that part doesn’t lower my hemoglobin or red blood cell count so I shouldn’t get anemia afterwards.

Giving Plasma by Dave Coverly

The other two things to avoid are exercise and caffeine.

Taking out caffeine was a letdown. I survived all of college without caffeine but I’d grown to like having a cup of coffee in the morning.

I still occasionally have some caffeine but I have switched to decaf or healthier low caffeine substitutes like tea. There’s been a noticeable reduction in the frequency of my heart flutters since I stopped drinking coffee everyday.

Exercise is the weird one to cut out.

I wasn’t exactly active prior to going to the doctor for this issue. I bike to lab every day and I walk my dog, but that’s about all the exercise I get. I don’t get heart flutters doing either of those things, only when my heart rate gets elevated past 140bpm (estimate).

So it’s not like my lifestyle is really changing by stopping those forms of exercise but it is a rather strange message to hear from my doctor, “Don’t exercise.”

I feel like eventually that’ll cause problems for me. I avoid heart palpitations by not exercising, but as I get older I’ll accumulate other problems that will mostly be solved by keeping to an exercise routine. But if keeping to the exercise routine causes other problems, then what do I do?

Ultimately, this is not current Isaac’s problem. This is future Isaac’s problem. He can deal with this when I have to make those sorts of decisions.

I feel healthy with the amount of exercise I’m getting now and hopefully low bpm workouts will continue to fulfill my needs in the future.

Long story short, I have some sort of heart condition, but it’s fairly common and not dangerous as long as I don’t give blood or drink caffeine every day.


PS. This is also the 300th post on the site. Woohoo! Milestone!