Local Cancer Patients Benefit From Donations of Whole Blood, Platelets to Marsh Regional Blood Center

When patients come to the Wellmont Cancer Institute's infusion centers for chemotherapy, they frequently have an additional need, one that can be easily met by their friends and neighbors in the region.

Many patients at the centers in Kingsport, Bristol and Norton, Va., require regular whole blood and platelet transfusions, while inpatients of the oncology units at Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center may need daily donations as part of their treatment.

Residents of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia can directly support these patients by rolling up their sleeves and donating whole blood and platelets to Marsh Regional Blood Center, which supplies these products to medical facilities throughout the region. These donations to Marsh Regional can make an immediate, palpable difference in patients' lives, strengthening their ability to fight cancer.

"Chemotherapy comes with quite a few side effects - fatigue and a tendency to bleed more easily among them," said Dr. Fadi Abu-Shahin, a medical oncologist with Wellmont Medical Associates Oncology & Hematology in Kingsport and Pennington Gap, Va. "But with platelet and whole blood donations, we can tackle that problem and prevent life-threatening hemorrhages."

Dr. Abu-Shahin estimates that patients suffering from diseases such as leukemia might require 50 to 100 platelet infusions during the course of their treatment.

"We see people come in all the time who are giving whole blood and platelets in honor of a loved one fighting cancer," said Don Campbell, Marsh Regional's director. "They really jump at the chance to help patients. It is another excellent way to give the gift of life."

Platelets are the part of a person's blood that causes clotting, and patients with cancer, leukemia, aplastic anemia and other platelet-suppressing diseases frequently need them.

The American Cancer Society said cancer patients might need a platelets infusion if their bone marrow is not making enough of them. This can result from platelet-producing bone marrow cells becoming damaged by chemotherapy or radiation or being pushed out of the bone marrow by cancer cells, the organization said.

Whole blood transfusions might be necessary because a patient has suffered major bleeding or has a disease or treatment that slows production of blood cells.

"Any disease being treated with chemotherapy - lung cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma - can benefit from platelets or whole blood," Dr. Abu-Shahin said.

Unlike whole blood donations, which include red blood cells and plasma, platelets are collected through a process called apheresis. This method removes platelets from the body but leaves the other blood components intact. Because platelet donations only remove one component of blood, donors can give more frequently - a maximum of 24 times a year. Whole blood donors, however, can only donate once every two months.

Last year, Marsh Regional highlighted the importance of whole blood and platelets for patients by giving $1 from every unit of whole blood it received during nine days in October to the Tri-Cities affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Marsh Regional collected enough donations for a $950 contribution.

Campbell extended the program in 2012, stretching the time frame to 20 days. During that time, the center received more than 2,250 whole blood and platelet donations, which enabled Marsh Regional to more than double its contribution to the Komen organization.

"We're proud to fight alongside cancer patients and their loved ones," Campbell said. "The donations we received will directly benefit thousands of patients in this region and beyond, thanks to the scope of Susan G. Komen."

Whole blood and platelets may be donated at any of Marsh Regional's collection centers: 102 E. Ravine Road, Kingsport; 1996 W. State St., Bristol; and 1 Professional Park Blvd., Suite 14, Johnson City. Whole blood may also be donated at these centers, as well as at Marsh Regional's mobile blood drives.

Because all donations to Marsh Regional stay in this region, all whole blood and platelets are used for patients in local cancer centers and hospitals.

Blood and platelet donations are especially important during the holiday season, as many regular donors go on vacation or are caught up in festivities. However, the need for blood and platelets does not slow down during this time of year.

To donate either product, individuals must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health. People with a cold, sore throat, fever, flu or fever blisters or who are taking antibiotics may not donate. Donors should eat a balanced meal before giving whole blood or platelets.

To learn more donating, please call 423-224-5888 or visit www.marshblood.com.