The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 14, 2014

Area couples grow closer while donating platelets

JOHNSTOWN — A couple who donate platelets together stay together.

That statement holds true for Russ and Cheryl Wirfel of New Germany and Matt and Brenda Molnar of Johnstown, who have been rolling up their sleeves and donating platelets – the small cell fragments that help to control bleeding – for years and giving the gift of life to those in need.

Both couples are platelet apheresis donors, which allows them to give just one part of their blood. During this type of donation, an apheresis machine collects the platelets and some plasma, then returns the red cells and most of the plasma to the donor.

A single platelet donation can provide enough platelets for a full therapeutic dose for a patient. Some platelet donations yield enough platelets for two or three therapeutic doses. In contrast, it takes four to six whole blood donations to produce a single therapeutic dose.

Platelet donors are able to donate up to 24 times in a 12-month period.

Cheryl Wirfel, 58, said she started donating platelets five years ago as a way to spend more time with her husband.

“Russ was donating on Saturdays and I started going with him because I didn’t like spending Saturday alone,” she said.

Russ Wirfel, 65, who has donated platelets for eight years, changed to this type of donation after giving whole blood for more than 20 years.

“I was told I have a high platelet count, so I made the switch to platelet donation because there is a need for it,” he said.

The Wirfels donate every two or three weeks on Saturdays at the Johnstown Donor Center, 250 Jari Drive in Richland Township.

For Cheryl Wirfel, the donation process takes about an hour and a half and requires both arms.

“They take the blood out of my one arm, spin the platelets out and put the blood back into my other arm,” she said.

It takes Russ Wirfel two hours to donate and he uses only one arm.

“From start to finish it takes about three hours,” Cheryl Wirfel said. “They make you feel as comfortable as possible while you’re donating, and the people and phlebotomists are simply wonderful.”

Together they’ve provided more than 300 platelet products for patient care.

Both agree they plan to donate for as long as they’re able.

“It takes a little bit of our time, but we know our donation is helping people so that makes it worth it,” Cheryl Wirfel said.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Russ Wirfel said.

Prior to starting platelet donation 10 years ago, the Molnars donated whole blood at a site in downtown Johnstown. After it closed, they went to the Richland center and were given a tour of the facility. It was there they were introduced to platelet donation and thought it looked interesting.

“I never thought much about donating, but Brenda talked me into it,” said Matt Molnar, 48. “After hearing about what apheresis is and how much platelets are needed for cancer patients, I decided they might as well take out of me what they can.”

They donate every two weeks on Wednesdays.

Brenda Molar does the two-arm donation and her husband does one. The process takes them about three hours.

“I don’t find it to be a burden. It’s part of our scheduled routine just like going to the store,” said Brenda Molnar, 59. “Everyone who works at the center goes out of their way to accommodate you and are so easy to work with they’re almost like family.”

The Molnars also have donated more than 300 platelet products for patient care and are hopeful their dedication will inspire others to donate.

“I’ve tried to get people to donate but there’s always an excuse that it takes too much time. But if you can sit and watch a football game for two hours, you can donate blood,” Brenda Molnar said.

Matt Molar said that his arm may hurt a bit after donating, but it’s a far cry from what people who receive the platelets are going through.

“I look at it like it’s my contribution and it’s something that I have to give,” he said.

For more information on platelet donation, visit www.redcrossblood.org/GARPlatelets.

Kelly Urban is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/KellyUrban25.

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