Donate twice as much blood, half as often, with a smaller needle

Posted by Paul Braren on Jun 4 2014 (updated on Jul 6 2016) in
  • Productivity
  • Reviews

    I traveled for work. For years. Decades actually. Been to about 30 of these 50 United States, usually for 3-5 day trips, often confirmed the week before. That lifestyle sure made volunteering for things like giving blood a challenge, canceling most of my appointments last minute.

    My personal motivation to keep on trying to donate is partly emulating my Dad's lifetime of giving, and the other part was a close family member going through some very serious trauma, requiring many units of donated blood to literally save her life.

    Finally, for the last 4 years, I've had the ability to work from home, full time. I've found that the double red cell donation machines to work better for me, and my still hectic schedule. It's not really whole blood I'm donating, because I get my plasma, platelets, and a little saline back.

    Given my IT worker lifestyle, I'd say others need a few of my blood cells far more than I do!

    Double Red Cell Donation

    Double red cell donation is similar to a whole blood donation, except a special machine is used to allow you to safely donate two units of red blood cells during one donation while returning your plasma and platelets to you.

    You may already know about the ongoing need for blood and the importance of your donations through the American Red Cross. Whole blood donations contain red blood cells, platelets, plasma and white blood cells. Red blood cells are the most frequently used blood component and are needed by almost every type of patient requiring transfusion. If you meet certain criteria, double red cell donation allows you to safely donate two units of red cells during one appointment as an automated donation process. It is as safe as whole blood donation.

    Fenwal Double Red Cell Donation machine at a May 2014 Red Cross blood drive in Connecticut

    Anybody interested in all-things-tech, like me, might actually find themselves thinking about how this thing work. Read more here, and also seen pictured here. It makes some noise as it inflates and deflates a blood pressure cuff on your arm, depending upon which part of the blood separation cycle you're on. Makes sense.


    • separates your blood components and lets you keep your plasma (less dehydration)
    • control temperature very well, so you no longer feel cold when your own plasma is returned to you, through the same needle
    • you give the same amount of blood per year, but only have to go half as often (every 4 months versus every 2 months)
    • the needle is thinner then "normal" blood donations
    • now that I've removed most of the mystery, doesn't it sound less scary and almost good?


    • the needle is in your arm about twice as long
    • your hemoglobin levels to qualify to give double need to be a little higher
    • you walk out with a stretchy arm wrap that you're supposed to keep on for an hour or two
    • there could be a slightly elevated risk of complications, not sure really, just saying
      For me, donation time is still about 2 hours from when I leave my driveway until I return home. But now, I go half as often per year. And I help as many people. Now that's productivity. So if I'm going to have a needle poke me, I'd rather make the most of it.

    Convenient online scheduling

    Dec 22 2014 Update

    I thought it was interesting that American Red Cross now lets me know where my donated blood went, seen below. Pretty cool idea, no?

    Your donation is on its way to change lives.

    Jul 05 2016 Update

    Double Red Cell Donation

    Gave blood again today, twice actually. Here's the new handout that was given:

    Become a Double Red Cell Donor - 2016


    I was also given the chance to do the survey stuff the night before, called RapidPass, which saved me some time at the actual blood donation center. The nurse gave me a tip that it's still best to print out the bar-coded final receipt in advance, and remember to bring it with you, since their scanners have issues reading off the phone screen sometimes, requring you to re-do all those questions.

    The magical double donation (Apheresis) machine finished doing its thing in just 29 minutes. I knew it was a good idea to start hydrating the night before, and the morning of!

    My A Negative type is a bit rare

    Turns out my A- is rather rare, and rarer still are A- donors who do a double donation, in July, a time of year where the need is severe.

    • Blood Types
      Blood Types and the Population
      Image from American Red Cross
      The ABO Blood Group System
      Image from American Red Cross

    Finding and scheduling -

    Find a Blood Drive

    I found this particular blood drive location weeks ago, using the Find a Blood Drive button found at, refining the search for all Double Red Cell sites.

    Jul 06 2016 Update

    I had noticed the multiple local news channel cameras at the donation. Later that evening, I arrived back home and watched the local news that I had remotely recorded with TiVo app from the drive.

    It turns out that right after giving blood, while hanging out in the freshment area, I had actually met the polite twins featured in this story, and their good (twin) friends:

    Seamus Turco

    Wow, not a bad way to feel even better about volunteering less than 2 hours of my time!

    West Hartford Town Hall - Auditorium.JPG