American culture is expanding the definition of beauty – or at least, we’re trying. From the updated Instagram nudity policy due to censorship of plus-size models to Fenty Beauty’s inclusive approach to skincare, big strides. As a petite Latina, I’ve fought against being short and curvy. Now in my thirties, I’m starting to be comfortable in my own skin. But what I didn’t realize? No matter how I feel about it, my body type can shape even the kind of blood donor I am.
I’ve donated whole blood ten times according to my donor profile. During most appointments, I struggled to meet the iron requirement. But we have a saying here at Bloodworks: we’re bold for blood. So there I went – trying to be bold, asking colleagues for more information about the different donation types, and scheduled my appointment to give Super Reds – in other words, twice the quantity of a regular red blood cell donation.
Apheresis is the process where blood is drawn out of a donor’s body and spun in a machine to separate its component parts. When donating super reds (oftentimes call, a double red cell donation), Bloodworks’ Alyx machine removes only the red cells — immediately returning the platelets and plasma back to a donor’s body. The entire process takes about 90 – 120 minutes. There are two requirements to meet the minimum blood volume: a donor’s weight and hemoglobin count (iron). Lastly, the ideal blood types for donating super reds are O+, O-, A- or B-.
My O+ blood type was ideal for a Super Reds donation, but I didn’t make the cut. Standing at 5’2 and about 135 pounds, I wasn’t the right candidate. That led me to ask, who is?
The FDA guidelines say that the requirements for male donors to donate double red blood cells are 5’1 or taller, and 130 lbs or more. For female donors, the requirements are 5’5 or taller, and at least 150 lbs. (Well, I was cut right from the bat.) Why is there such a difference between the sexes? According to Stanford Blood Center, “Women and men have different total blood volume (TBV) — even if they weigh the same amount. The standard of care dictates that no more than 15% of a person’s TBV should be drawn at a time.” Apheresis machines determine TBV based on sex, height, weight, and hemoglobin. At Bloodworks, for men, a normal red blood cell level in the range of iron is 13.0 g/dL to 18.2 g/dL; for women, 12.5 g/dL to 18.2 g/dL.
My donation attempt was unsuccessful, and the reason is clear. The requirements for a double red cell donation are based on a scientific formula designed to collect enough red blood cells within a healthy limit for the donor. So my kind of beauty means I’m not a Super Red donor, but it makes me perfect for other donations.
My drive to give super reds was two-fold: (1) trying to give every donation type available, and (2) giving more in one donation. Double red cells are important for patients who lose or at risk of losing significant volumes of blood require red blood cell transfusions. This includes patients who have suffered severe trauma, have a perforated bleeding ulcer, or who are undergoing a major surgical procedure. And a Super Reds donation can be given every 112 days, which adds up to 3 times a year.
While I was disappointed in my donation attempt, I gave my usual whole blood donation. The beauty of giving blood is that every donation helps our community and my beauty, in this way anyway, is that I can help my community every 56 days with my O+ whole blood donations. And I won’t feel guilty about the cookie afterward either.
For more information on Super Reds, visit bloodworksnw.org/superreds.