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Spc. James Barnes, a lab technician, weighs and records a bag of platelets collected Saturday at the 86th Combat Support Hospital collection center in Baghdad, the only platelet collection center in Iraq.

Spc. James Barnes, a lab technician, weighs and records a bag of platelets collected Saturday at the 86th Combat Support Hospital collection center in Baghdad, the only platelet collection center in Iraq. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Spc. James Barnes, a lab technician, weighs and records a bag of platelets collected Saturday at the 86th Combat Support Hospital collection center in Baghdad, the only platelet collection center in Iraq.

Spc. James Barnes, a lab technician, weighs and records a bag of platelets collected Saturday at the 86th Combat Support Hospital collection center in Baghdad, the only platelet collection center in Iraq. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Spc. Michael Burns grimaces as Sgt. Dwight Kioshi pokes a needle into his arm. “I hate needles,” Burns said.

Spc. Michael Burns grimaces as Sgt. Dwight Kioshi pokes a needle into his arm. “I hate needles,” Burns said. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Sgt. Dwight Kioshi a lab technician, tests a sample of platelets for HIV and hepatitis. Tests can be done right at the hospital to ensure the quality of donated platelets.

Sgt. Dwight Kioshi a lab technician, tests a sample of platelets for HIV and hepatitis. Tests can be done right at the hospital to ensure the quality of donated platelets. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

BAGHDAD — Welcome to the first — and only — platelet collection center in Iraq.

Now, please, roll up your sleeve.

About a month ago, the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad started collecting platelets, a much-sought-after blood product that aids the body in the clotting process and is most beneficial in stopping massive bleeds.

“As technology improves on the battlefield, we are also able to bring new and improved technology into the heath-care arena,” said Army Capt. Jeff Smith, the lab’s officer in charge.

Using platelets “greatly improves patient care and gives surgeons a blood product never previously available on the battlefield.”

Even though platelets are collected in the same manner as blood, donors have so far only trickled into the CSH, and the hospital staff is tapped routinely to donate. Dr. (Maj.) Thomas Poulton, 36, a urologist with the 86th CSH, visits the center about every two weeks to boost the supply, which at times gets critically low because of the near daily surgeries taking place on wounded trauma patients.

Spc. Michael Burns has been in five or six times exposing his veins to donate. Why do it?

“I don’t know. Why not?” said Burns, 23, a mental health specialist at the hospital. “They asked me to, and I said sure. It’s really needed and important here.”

Platelets are not blood type specific, so a patient with B-positive blood, for example, can receive platelets from any donor, making the product versatile, said Spc. James Barnes, 30, a lab technician from Orange Park, Fla.

Platelets cannot be refrigerated or frozen and have a shelf life of five to seven days, and thus are not shipped or mailed to the combat zone.

Here’s how the process works: Blood is drawn from the donor and is circulated through a machine that spins and separates blood, plasma and platelets. The blood and plasma then are returned to the donor. During the process, however, the blood is mixed with an anticoagulant, to help keep the collected platelets from clotting, which thins the blood re-entering the body. Some side affects include dizziness, nausea or a metallic taste in the mouth, which can be countered by taking calcium, Poulton said.

The anticoagulant, however, is not enough to stop the clotting process if the donor were to cut him or herself.

The donation process takes between 90 minutes and two hours. Unlike whole blood donations, platelet donations can be done every two weeks instead of every 56 days.


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