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Westmoreland-Armstrong platelet donors offer up the 'ultimate gift'

| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Red Cross collection specialist Nina Wright prepares Irvin Penrose of Latrobe for platelet donation.
Marilyn Forbes | for Trib Total Media
Red Cross collection specialist Nina Wright prepares Irvin Penrose of Latrobe for platelet donation.

There is no season for the gifts bestowed by Irvin Penrose, 73, of Latrobe.

He regularly comes to the American Red Cross Donation Center at 351 Harvey Ave. in Greensburg to donate platelets, cells that circulate in the blood until an injury causes them to bind together and prevent bleeding.

“I feel like this is something that I can do for someone else,” Penrose said. “This is something I can do for someone who needs it. I used to donate whole blood but I decided to do this instead.”

That compassion characterizes donors to the Westmoreland-Armstrong Chapter of the Red Cross.

“We really appreciate everyone who comes to donate, and we have some really great people who come through that door,” collection specialist Nina Wright said. “We not only appreciate that they are donating, but that they are taking time our of their schedules to come here.”

Platelets are a vital element of cancer treatments, organ transplants and surgical procedures because they help prevent massive blood loss, according to the Red Cross website.

In Greensburg, “we collect whole blood here on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month from noon to 4 (p.m.) but we are here pretty much every day to collect platelets,” collection specialist Rose Deutsch said.

Platelet apheresis accounts for less then 10 percent of donations.

A machine collects platelets from about a quarter-pint of blood and then returns remaining blood components, along with some saline, to the donor. The process lasts anywhere from about 90 minutes to more than two hours.

In more common donations, approximately 1 pint of whole blood is donated, to be used mostly for transfusions into patients undergoing surgery or treatment for accidents. The donation procedure may take up to one hour and can be repeated every 56 days.

Platelet donors can donate again within a week. “The reason that they can donate so quickly is the red blood cells are returned to them,” Deutsch said.

All donations are sent to Johnstown, where they are tested before being shipped to distribution sites such as hospitals.

Penrose, who grew up on a farm in Armagh, Indiana County, “did a lot of things” throughout his career before retiring from Newcomer Products in Derry Township.

He began donating whole blood in 1995 simply because “I wanted to serve others, especially those with cancer,” he said. “We lost our daughter two months ago to cancer.”

Mary Morvosh of Tarrs was only 43 years old, Penrose said.

Penrose figures he donated “11, 12 gallons” of whole blood before becoming a platelet donor. His devotion had been sidetracked while he took “blood-thinner” mediation after suffering strokes, he said.

But now Penrose is back, although he cannot donate as frequently as he once did.

“We have people who come every two weeks on a regular basis,” Deutsch said. “Many of them begin to donate because they know someone who had cancer or they have friends or family members who may have died from cancer.”

All donors must be in good health, weigh at least 110 pounds and be at least 17 years old.

“We make sure that they have eaten,” Deutsch said. “We do what we can to make everyone comfortable.”

For instance, platelet donors might become cold so a warm blanket is always ready.

Walk-in donors are welcome but appointments are stressed due to the size of the facility and for the convenience of staff members and donors.

“Our donors want to be here and that makes it so easy for everyone,” Wright said. “They are friendly and they are happy and they are here to give the ultimate gift.”

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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