Health Check: Granulocyte donations

NBC 10's Barbara Morse Silva makes a granulocyte donation at the Rhode Island Blood Center.

I made a type of blood donation that many people have probably never heard of. It's often used to help a cancer patient who's battling a life-threatening infection.

Even before the Rhode Island Blood Center opened Monday morning, I was there and ready to make a very special donation.

Actually, I had been in the night before so they could give me an injection of a medication that would stimulate my granulocytes, a type of white blood cell used to fight infection.

By Monday morning, my white blood cell count had more than tripled and I was prepared for the three-hour donation process. It's a slow process for a reason.

"If we go too fast, we're taking more of red cells and cells we don't want. We just want granulocytes," said Pat St. Pierre of the Rhode Island Blood Center.

A machine draws the blood and puts it in a centrifuge, which separates the plasma from the red cells.

"Right in between the layers is what's called the buffy coat. We go a little bit deeper in the buffy coat, and that's where we find your granulocytes," St. Pierre said.

The person I'm helping will get my granulocytes within hours of my donation.

"It's a cancer patient that came down with an infection. Because of chemotherapy they have no immune system in them, no immune response for an infection. So, basically your granulocytes, your white blood cells, become their white blood cells and they fight the cancer for him," St. Pierre said.

"Originally when we started the program we thought we would maybe get one request a year, and it's ended up being like five to six requests a year and with every request we need five donors," St. Pierre said.

Each patient requires one donor each day for five days. I'm day No. 3 for a man they can only tell me is in his mid-50s.

"It's a beautiful thing. It's life, life in a bag. You're giving someone a chance to live another day," St. Pierre said.

The blood center needs more people to sign up to be on the list to become granulocyte donors. Donations go right to the person in need, and he or she lives to see another day. But donors have to be ready at a moment's notice.