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Eugene man reflects on 500 donations of platelets

He encourages others to give, saying ‘you can save lives’

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Dan Ertel looks away as blood collection specialist Marty Ortiz inserts a needle for Ertel's 500th platelet donation at Lane Bloodworks in Eugene, Ore., on Aug. 31.
Dan Ertel looks away as blood collection specialist Marty Ortiz inserts a needle for Ertel's 500th platelet donation at Lane Bloodworks in Eugene, Ore., on Aug. 31. (ben lonergan/The Register Guard (Eugene, Ore.)) Photo Gallery

EUGENE, Ore. — For those who want to donate blood, but are squeamish about the needle, dedicated and decadeslong donor Dan Ertel has one piece of simple advice.

“Look that way,” he said with a laugh, looking away from his right arm.

He shared this wisdom on a recent morning, as he sat down for his 500th platelet donation at Lane Bloodworks in Eugene. Unlike regular blood donations, which take less than an hour, platelet donation can take 90 minutes to two hours. By now, he knows the drill and brought along a Tom Clancy novel and a National Geographic magazine.

Ertel’s not eager for attention, but he does want the community to know how critical blood donations can be. About a third of the population is eligible to donate blood, but only about 10 percent of that group does it.

“Many people think that others will donate. Well, look to yourself,” he said as the apheresis machine, which separated platelets from the rest of his blood, whirled in the background. “If you can donate, do … There’s always a shortage in Lane County, don’t wait until there’s a catastrophic event to go do it.”

He first donated blood in 1984, and he hasn’t stopped sharing what he can since. He wasn’t motivated by a particular incident or affected family member; he just wanted to improve the lives of those around him. While being a regular donor, he’s also worked with Eugene Active 20-30 club, a group that fundraises for children’s charities, and Kidsports, a local nonprofit sports program for kids. Beyond being a donor, he’s an advocate for donating blood.

“You can save lives with every donation,” he said, “so, you should.”

When Ertel was asked about all the people he might of helped over the years, his eyes welled up. It’s not an overstatement to say he’s impacted the lives of about 500 people through his efforts, Dr. Moritz Stolla from the Bloodworks Research Institute said.

“It’s just amazing what he has accomplished and how many patients he has helped,” Stolla said.

Whole blood is always needed. Platelets, blood cells that help control bleeding, are increasing in need.

What’s the difference between donating whole blood and platelets?

Chemotherapy patients, recipients of open-heart surgery, burn patients, and organ transplant recipients are among those specifically in need of platelets.

Stolla said patients in need fall into two major groups, those who are struggling to produce their own platelets because of issues, such as blood cancers or diseases, and those who are being treated for bleeding, such as trauma surgery patients.

“That one (platelet) donation just goes to one patient,” Stolla said. “But for this patient, this really can mean the difference between life and death.”

Platelets are best stored at room temperature and have a shelf life of only five to seven days, whereas refrigerated red cells that can be stored for 42 days and plasma can be frozen for up to a year. That’s why platelet donations are a particularly hot commodity.

Platelet donation happens through a process called apheresis. Blood is drawn from a donor’s arm to a sterile, one-use-only kit in an apheresis machine that spins the blood to remove just the platelets, returning the red cells and plasma to the donor’s arm.

The red cells are returned along with an anti-coagulant that may cause some lip tingling, so donors are given a Tums tablet since calcium reduces that effect.

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