By Army Pfc. Derek L. Kuhn
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 19, 2009 - Servicemembers here may not be on the front lines, but their life-saving actions still make them heroes. With the assistance of the Army's 440th Blood Support Detachment at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, servicemembers are providing life to trauma patients by donating the most perishable of blood's three main components: blood platelets.
Unlike whole blood, platelets have a maximum shelf life of a week, so donations must be obtained within the immediate area.
"We have at least one person a day donating platelets to maintain our inventory," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Karen Oliveira, a lab technician with the detachment. "But we get more patients in the summer, so we need more donors in the summer."
When extra donors are needed, the detachment turns to a list of willing donors. The potential donors are contacted via e-mail or telephone, and arrangements for the donation are made.
All willing donors must pass a screening process at least two weeks before they are able to donate. The screening involves a vital-signs check, completing a questionnaire and having blood drawn to see if volunteers qualify to donate. If no discrepancies are found, the servicemembers are put on the donor roster.
Before potential donors may donate, they are screened again to ensure only the highest quality blood platelets are used. The use of only the best samples adds to the importance of having more donors, Oliveira noted.
"There is always a need of having people come in and donate," Oliveira said. "We have to draw and culture [the blood platelets] to ensure that there aren't any contaminations. We try to give the safest and purest sample to patients needing it."
Many servicemembers pull double duty at the military hospital and regularly donate blood platelets. One such soldier is Army Sgt. Mark Poczobut, a laboratory noncommissioned officer with the detachment.
"It makes me feel good," Poczobut said. "Even though we are not out on the front lines, it makes me feel like I am helping out those soldiers who are out on the front lines."
Poczobut described the donation process as being relaxed and uneventful.
"The needle feels like a bee sting when it is going into your arm," he said. "After a minute or two, you completely forget that the needle is inside your arm. It's even covered up by gauze, so you don't even see it. You sit in a chair for a few hours, and you do what they tell you."
The 440th BSD staff suggests relaxing with music or a book during the two-hour process. They also show movies for the donor's viewing pleasure.
"We have a large collection of movies that servicemembers have donated," Oliveira said.
Entertainment aside, many consider the experience of donating and assisting the donors gratifying.
"It is a rewarding experience in itself," Oliveira said. "You are behind the scenes, but you are contributing to what's going on in theater. Trauma patients come in from other areas of theater, and we provide platelets for them."
(Army Pfc. Derek L. Kuhn serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)