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Published on January 30, 2018

Jerry Vander Lee apheresis donor

Want to Help Save Lives? Give Blood!

As a regular blood donor since his high school days, Jerry Vander Lee has given gallons of blood that have benefited numerous people and saved lives.

Yet five years ago, as his mom was undergoing care for leukemia, he found a way to help even more people – as an apheresis donor.

Apheresis is a mode of donating blood products that’s available in Sioux Falls only at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center’s Community Blood Bank location. It’s a process that allows the donation of specific blood components, like platelets and plasma, over the course of about an hour and a half.

Platelets and plasma are often important in the treatment of cancer, organ and bone marrow transplants, as well as trauma. Because the platelets and plasma are concentrated through the apheresis process, one donation through apheresis can be equivalent to six whole-blood donations.

Plus, apheresis donors can give more often – as often as every two weeks – compared to every 56 days for whole-blood donors.

“When my mom was going through leukemia, she would get to feeling really run down. When she received platelets, it charged her up for a week or so. I saw firsthand how it impacted her quality of life. So I continued doing it even after she passed,” he said.

Vander Lee, Chaplaincy Manager at Avera McKennan, has a standing appointment every two weeks. The procedure is painless, and so he considers it his “spa time” – a time to sit back, relax, and even be pampered just a bit by staff who bring him warm blankets and engage in friendly conversation.

Instead of flowing directly into a bag, the donor’s blood enters a system of sterile tubing connected to a machine where a small centrifuge “spins” and separates the blood into components. These products are collected and stored in sterile bags and the remaining blood components are then safely returned back to the donor.

“Because people receive back most of their blood volume, they don’t feel as tired or run down after an apheresis donation,” said Dawn Ver Hoeven, Lab Operations Manager at Avera McKennan.

Apheresis products stay local, helping patients at Avera McKennan and the Avera Heart Hospital. Whole blood donations donated at Avera and other Community Blood Bank sites in the area also stay nearby to help people close to home.

Both whole blood and apheresis donors are more than welcome, especially this time of the year.

“Only about 5 percent of the population donates blood, yet platelets are needed every 30 seconds,” Ver Hoeven said.

This time of year, illnesses like flu can keep regular donors on the sidelines. That results in a shortage of blood products, Ver Hoeven said.

Anyone who’s healthy and age 17 or older can donate blood. The process begins with a short interview and a quick assessment to ensure that your current health status will allow you to donate.

“Whether you’re willing to do apheresis or give whole blood, please consider donating blood. It all goes toward saving lives and improving quality of life,” Ver Hoeven said.

At Avera, the Community Blood Bank is located on the third floor of Plaza 2 on the Avera McKennan campus, with convenient parking right in front of the building. You can call 605-322-7111 to make an appointment, or walk-ins are always welcome.

Or, check for blood donation sites or bloodmobiles in your home community.

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