HATS Off to a Hopkins First
Even with 25 years of experience, George Rew still can't bring himself
to watch the needles going in. But other than that, he says, giving
platelets is no big deal. "It's not like you have to take the rest
of the day off to recuperate or anything."
Rew should know. Last month, the BGE retiree set a Hopkins record, becoming the first person in the history of the Hematopoietic and Therapeutic Support Service to make 300 donations of platelets-components in the blood that help it to clot. These tiny cell fragments can prevent life-threatening bleeding in patients with diseases like agranulocytosis or aplastic anemia or who've undergone chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants. To celebrate Rew's milestone, the HATS staff invited more than 50 people-his family, friends and other long-time platelet donors-to a luncheon in his honor.
"My wife got me started," says Rew. "One of her friends
had a son with leukemia, and she asked me if I could go down to Hopkins
to give blood. They explained this new hemapheresis to me. I said, Yeah,
I can do that. When I went to visit the little boy in the hospital,
it hit me how big a situation this was. Other kids didn't have hair.
Some were yellow. They needed to get over that hurdle, and donating
platelets was a way to buy them time. I said, If I'm a match for somebody,
I'll continue to do it. I just got in the habit."
Unlike a whole-blood donation, in which a unit can be given in about
half an hour, platelets are extracted by drawing a small amount of blood
from one of the donor's arms, passing it through a cell-separating machine,
and returning it to the other arm. When Rew started donating in 1977,
the process took about four hours. Today's technology has whittled the
procedure down to 100 minutes, but still requires a big needle in each
arm, so the donor must keep them extended for the duration.
"Up to about two years ago, I gave every two weeks," says Rew. "After a while, you build up scar tissue at the site, so now I've cut back to every three weeks. But I wanna keep going. I was 59 in September. They don't know of any cut-off date. So as long as I'm healthy-and I feel fit as a fiddle-I'll just keep coming."