Separating blood for medical reasons is a mitzvah, donor and rabbi say
The process of donating blood platelets may be time consuming, but the feeling Ellen Schall gets from doing such an important mitzvah is well worth the effort.
Schall, the director of Beth El Nursery School in the South Hills, regularly takes the two to three hours necessary for an aphaeresis — the process of donating only select blood components — in order to help others in need.
“What a great feeling,” she said. “Just by giving blood you can make a difference. And how hard is it to give blood?”
Aphaeresis is most commonly used to collect platelets and plasma. The process differs from simply donating blood, however, in that the donor’s blood is moved through a centrifuge, which separates the blood into components.
“It’s interesting to watch,” said Schall. “They collect the platelets and you get your red cells and your plasma back. You can watch the blood separating into components. It’s not harder than just donating blood, but it is more time consuming.”
The time invested, however, delivers a big return. A single aphaeresis donation of platelets can provide as many platelets as five whole blood donations, according to the American Red Cross.
Certain types of patients, including those who have undergone bone marrow transplants, and those suffering from cancer and leukemia, particularly benefit from platelet transfusion from a single donor, which gives them a reduced chance of an immune system reaction to the transfusion.
That is one reason why Schall found herself in an aphaeresis chair so often last year. When she was called and told that a particular patient had been responding very well to her unique platelets, she underwent the procedure every two weeks to help this man, whom she had never met.
Donating platelets, like donating blood, falls under the mandates of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), and Jews should participate accordingly, said Rabbi Danny Schiff, the Agency of Jewish Learning Community Scholar.
“In the Conservative movement, it’s not just a worthy activity, but might actually be required,” said Schiff, noting that some other Jewish authorities conclude that donating blood is worthy, but optional.
Schiff analogized someone in need of platelets to someone who is drowning in a river. “In that case, we’re required to jump in and save them.”
Although people are limited to giving blood only once approximately every two months, people who donate just platelets can donate every three days, for a maximum of 24 times a year.
While the process is time-consuming, it is also relaxing, so Schall doesn’t mind.
“How often do you get to lay in a chair for two hours and not work?” she asked.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)