I suppose a lot of you know that New Zealand has a number of charitable organisations that run with minimal government funding and with a lot of generosity from every day kiwis. It’s incredible how some organisations raise hundreds and thousands of dollars purely because people want to help with whatever minimum they can part with. The recent Christchurch attack victims fundraiser was a classic example of how the country came together to help out. I’ve walked passed a number of people doing street appeals in Wellington by the railway station, Lambton Quay etc and have seen first hand how generous Kiwis really are. I contribute as well most times but it’s always in coins than anything in paper.

Having born and raised in a typical middle class Indian household, philanthropy is not something we are born with naturally. Forget the middle class household, even the rich in India aren’t as giving as they can actually be. Nothing wrong with it; it’s only because it’s hard for anyone to part with their money without actually getting anything in return. It’s a classic way of how human brains operate. Specially when it’s one’s own hard earned money and we have to give it away, a subconscious state of mind tells you that you need something in return, more often than not, something materialistic however big or small it might be.  My father has been an avid donor when it comes to charity. He has a handful of organisations that he gives regularly and has been doing so for a few decades now. That’s one leaf from his book that I haven’t been able to pick out completely yet. I always tell to myself that when I earn more I’ll give more but it doesn’t happen as much. Whether I was earning peanuts or a huge six figure pay, giving away didn’t come to me as much as I would have liked. In the last 10 years I probably have given away no more than five to ten thousand dollars to charity !! This is terrible of me. I know a lot of you would probably be in the same boat as I’m. So sometimes I randomly jump on to a give-a-little page and anonymously donate to whichever cause I feel like, to just showing random acts of kindness.

A few years ago however,  one day while I was passing by I did come across a blood donation camp at the Amora Hotel (then) and registered to donate blood. It hardly took 30-40 mins of my day and it left me with a good feeling that I did something good for the day. I wanted to do this again but given that it was whole blood, I had to wait for at least another 90 days before I could donate again. Nevertheless as I was on NZ Blood’s mailing list, I’d always get a reminder telling I was eligible to do so again and then I’d go donate again. This continued to be a routine the next two years or so. Once every quarter I’d get a reminder, I’d make time and then go donate & come back. While I know the blood was useful in more than one way, I was not satisfied by the fact that I could only do a maximum of 4 donations in a year. 

One day while reading news online I read about a man in his 70s who had completed his 500th blood donation. Knowing that it was practically impossible for anyone to do that, I looked up a little more and found out that it was actually plasma that he had been donating for a good five decades or so. And so at my next blood donation, I asked one of the nurses if there was something I could do more frequently which is when she mentioned to me about Plasma Donation..I had no clue what it was or what it meant. She gave me a booklet with all the information and mentioned that to donate plasma I have to go NZ Blood Service centre every time as the machines involved were not portable & the procedure wasn’t the same as blood donation. It would take an average of 90-120minutes for each plasma donation to be completed and had to be done at their site. Irrespective of all of that, I decided to sign up anyway and see what it was about and what I needed to do. 

When that first donation day arrived I was told to be hydrated very well and also have a decent amount of food. After reaching the centre, filling a questionnaire and a quick finger pricking (for heamoglobin check) I was ready to make my first donation. I was curious about the whole process and before I could understand anything, it was all over. As a donor it’s nothing different than the blood donation. A single needle is pierced into your arm and then the machine does its magic. It draws about 500 ml of blood, separates the plasma out and then pumps back the blood into the body, all through the same needle. This cycle repeats itself about 4-5 times depending on your body weight and how well you are hydrated that day before donating. You don’t feel a thing, however in a few instances I’ve felt the blood being sent back into my arm 🙂 While it does sound scary and all you trypanophobics might be shitting in your pants as you read this, it doesn’t feel any painful than it sounds.  It’s actually fascinating to see what the machine can do and how amazing human engineering is. For once I could understand what really medical electronics was all about and this was just a sample of some incredible gadgets in the medical world.You don’t really feel anything other than the first prick of the needle. And then you are free to do whatever you want (and can while lying down) I usually watch a documentary on my iPad or read something. At my last donation I actually attended a conference call with my work team. It’s just that easy.

So What really is Plasma and what is it used for? Without going into the technicalities here’s a simple answer to both of the questions above. Plasma is the clear, straw-colored liquid portion of blood that remains after red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and other cellular components are removed. It is the single largest component of human blood, comprising about 55 percent, and contains water, salts, enzymes, antibodies and other proteins. Plasma is used to treat people who have lost a lot of blood from accidents or other trauma and people who have severe bleeding during surgery. Plasma is also used to create up to 12 lifesaving blood products  During the actual blood donation process, your blood is drawn through a needle placed in a vein in one arm. Then a special machine separates the plasma (and often the platelets) from your blood sample. This process is called plasmapheresis. The remaining red blood cells and other blood components are then returned to your body, along with a little saline (salt) solution.

Today after nearly 4 years of being a donor, I’ve just completed my 70th plasma donation, which roughly equates to 140 litres of blood processed to extract approx 53 litres of plasma from my body !! And I know all of these 53 litres have been put into great use by the medics for all the people in need. The first milestone I’d like to hit is 100 donations with a lifetime goal of at least 250 donations. However with all the overseas travels and restrictions on when you can donate again based on the country/geography visited, that number feels like an eternity. I’m also one of the few thousand registered Bone Marrow donors in the NZ donors’ registry. So far there hasn’t been a need for Bone Marrow donation yet and I hope there is none either, but if a situation demands for it I’m all geared up.

Even though my donation might not be monetary, with Plasma donation I know that I’ve touched many people’s lives when they are in need, without them knowing that it’s me. That alone suffices what am doing and warrants a smile at the end of each of my donation. Plasma Donors are known among the fraternity as people with “Hearts of Gold”. Mainly because of the golden colour of the plasma as well as how insanely useful it is for a variety of reasons. The Wellington centre has approximately 350 donors doing so every week and I’m just one among the many. Now I haven’t written about my donation to brag about what I do or blow my trumpets. Instead I’m hoping this generates some interest within all those who are keen to do something good for the society. I know there are plenty of other ways of doing your own good and this is not the ONLY way as such. I’m just making people aware that this is an additional medium to do so. End of the day it’s totally up to you what you want to do with your life, your time and your money, right?

But do note there are lot of people with a lot of needs and as such plasma donation is just a small drop of a charitable act, in an ocean of necessities for some. So do what you can when you can, however big or small it may be. Adios ! Take care !

If any of you would like to know more about Plasma Donation or want to sign up check out www.nzblood.co.nz