Robert Williams started donating his blood because of his daughter. Now he donates for everyone’s daughters — and sons.
The Canoga Park, Calif., man drives to City of Hope every other week to donate platelets, a component of blood that helps blood clot. He’s been doing it for so long — about 16 years — that he recently donated his 300th unit of platelets. A unit is 450 milliliters, or nearly a pint.
No one has ever donated as many platelets at City of Hope as Williams, a retired executive from Hughes Corp.
Staff at the City of Hope Blood Donor and Apheresis Center celebrated the milestone with balloons and signs, but Williams also gets a more lasting reward every time he donates: memories of his daughter, Casey, and the knowledge that he’s helped others like her.
He first started traveling to City of Hope in the early ‘90s when Casey was being treated for Hodgkin’s disease. At first, he would donate blood platelets for his daughter, who was undergoing chemotherapy, but he knew that the platelets would often go to someone else in need. After Casey died, he kept giving, knowing he was helping other patients.
Donated platelets are critical, because cancer and chemotherapy treatments can hinder patients’ ability to make their own platelets. Patients with leukemia or other blood diseases and those undergoing chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants often need donated platelets to prevent life-threatening bleeding.
Donors give platelets through a process called apheresis, or blood cell separation. They sit in a chair while their blood flows into a special machine, which separates some of the platelets and then returns the rest of the red blood cells and plasma back to the donor. It’s safe to donate because a healthy body produces more platelets than it needs. These procedures generally take about two hours.
“We really appreciate Mr. Williams, and other platelet donors like him, because we can’t keep platelets for very long,” said Jill Schwarz, manager of whole blood and platelet recruitment. “The shelf life of platelets is only about two days, so we need more donors so that we can make sure we always have the platelets that City of Hope patients depend on.
“Even if you don’t personally know someone battling cancer, this is a generous gift, and there’s always a need.”
For more information on how to donate, contact the Blood Donor and Apheresis Center, send the center an e-mail or call 626-471-7171.