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For Massey researcher, platelets donation is personal

May 10, 2022

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Several times each year, J. Brian Cassel, Ph.D., rolls up his sleeves in the name of cancer patients. Cassel, the palliative care research director at VCU Massey Cancer Center, is a regular platelets donor.

“I want to do something tangible for people living with cancer,” explained Cassel. “Both of my parents had cancer, and I remember my mom getting a number of blood transfusions and platelets. I started donating platelets years ago, when a friend of mine told me how critical the need was. I think the need is even greater now, with more people living with cancer than ever, plus the effects of the pandemic these past two years.”

The American Red Cross of Virginia reports that it has seen about a 10% reduction in blood donations, including platelets, since March 2020. It has sent out emails and text alerts to let potential donors know how critical the need is for platelets.

“We understand that without the blood that we collect from members of the community, many cancer patients won't be able to maintain their treatment,” said Jonathan McNamara, communications director for American Red Cross of Virginia.

Platelets are blood cells that aid in clotting. If their bone marrow is not making enough platelets, patients may need transfusions. Types of leukemia and lymphoma pose a greater risk.

“Cancer itself, as well as chemotherapy and radiation, can really beat up a body’s ability to produce blood and platelets for kids and adults,” said Cassel, who is also an associate professor of hematology/oncology and palliative care at VCU. “My job as a health economics researcher at Massey can seem academic and far removed from the day-to-day struggles of people with cancer. It’s great to be able to donate blood and platelets to help people in a very tangible way.”

According to the Red Cross, platelets have no type, like the A positive or O negative found with whole blood; cancer patients can usually receive platelets from any donor. There is no way to stockpile platelets because they have to be transfused within a five-day period. Donating platelets takes 90 minutes or more and utilizes both arms. Healthy donors may give as few as seven days apart but no more than 24 times a year.

“I like giving of myself – quite literally in the case of blood and platelets – in addition to financial donations,” said Cassel. “I don’t seem to have a lot of time for volunteer activities, but I can make time for donating blood and platelets.”

For his platelets donations, Cassel frequently uses the 16 hours of community service leave offered to university and classified VCU employees each year.

Amanda Martens, M.Ed., PHR, SHRM-CP, director of Human Resources at Massey, confirms American Red Cross blood donation falls under the criteria for this paid time off (PTO).

“To use [these hours], simply send documentation to your department's HR office and use the leave code: 13 - Com. Service Leave in RealTime,” advised Martens. “For more information, see State policy 4.40: School Assistance and Volunteer Service Leave.”

Cassel can think of no better way to spend the time off.

“It doesn’t take long to donate blood, but platelets can take two and a half hours,” he said. “So it makes it a bit easier to do this during weekdays and use those community service hours.”

The Red Cross is grateful to regular donors, like Cassel.

“You, the donor, are a real critical piece of the puzzle, making sure that we have the resources at our facilities across Virginia,” stated McNamara. “So when the hospitals call, we can answer.”

Earlier this year, the Massey Alliance partnered with VCU Health to promote three American Red Cross blood drives. The 90 total spots filled up within the first week of promotion, resulting in a total of 90 units donated. Building on the success of the first three drives, American Red Cross requested to host another drive, which was also filled almost immediately. In total, the drives resulted in 120 units of donated blood from VCU and VCU Health staff and community members.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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