Posted by: suekenney | December 21, 2011

Word of the Day, with a Purpose: Apheresis

Now here’s a nice little word for you.  Apheresis.  It’s from the Greek, from a word meaning “to take away” or “to snatch.”   When I started this post, I had one particular definition in mind, which I will get to.  But as I was verifying my initial definition, I learned something new:

It is a word used in linguistics, to mean “the loss or omission of letters, sounds, or syllables at the beginning of a word.”  Some good examples are ‘coon for raccoon, squire for esquire, till for until, and ‘roo for kangaroo.  I’ve long noted this linguistic phenomenon – do a lot of it myself – but I never knew it had a name – until today.  See, even 50-somethings can still learn a few things!  And maybe I’ll get back to this definition in a later post.

But let me get to my initial definition.  See, I just donated blood yesterday.  Not the more common whole blood donation, but what is called the process of apheresis:  “the withdrawal of whole blood from the body, separation of one or more components, and return by transfusion of remaining blood to the donor.”

It’s an interesting process.  You’re hooked up to a special machine – not just a collection bag, like the whole blood donation – which proceeds to pull the blood out.  Then the machine gives the blood a few whirls (centrifugation, to use another big word) so that the components of the blood split up by varying densities.  The component desired is separated out, and the rest is retransfused back into your body.  And then they do the whole thing over again.

For those who might be gruesomely curious, it does feel weird to have your blood (or most of it, anyway) pumped back into your arm – kind of a cold feeling, and this time around my lips got a bit numb, then tingly, very briefly.  And it does take a lot longer than the normal whole blood donation.  Plus, if you’re giving red blood cells as I was, you have to wait twice as long before you can donate again.

So why bother with this complicated process when the same components can be separated from whole blood, and you can give whole blood more often?  Saw an interesting discussion online where someone asked that same question:  why bother?  Double-red donation, as the Red Cross terms it, is obviously more expensive, more time-consuming, and can only be done half as often. 

At least a couple of the respondents brought out the point that most people don’t give blood on a regular basis, or as often as they are able (every 8 weeks for whole blood donation).  So for those of us (I include myself) who are a bit on the forgetful side, double-red donation or apheresis might be the best way to go.  As long as I have enough iron in my blood (you need a bit more than for the whole blood donation), I can do this three times a year.

So if you want to do something worthwhile, and don’t faint at the sight of blood, and have plenty of iron in your blood, consider a double-red donation at your local Red Cross.  It’s Christmas time, after all – what better gift could you give than a bit of yourself?

A donor's arm at various stages of donation. T...

Image via Wikipedia


  1. Great Article 🙂

    • Sorry so slow getting back to you. End of the month got a bit busy. Thanks for reading; glad you enjoyed it.

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