NIH Blood Bank

Red Cells by Apheresis

Each year, about 7,000 units of red blood cells are needed in the NIH Clinical Center to treat patients undergoing cancer therapy, organ and tissue transplants, and other diseases that require blood transfusions.

If you'd like to donate but can't seem to find the time, now there is a new donation option at the NIH Blood Bank called Double Red Cell Apheresis (DRCA). This procedure will let you give two units of red cells in one visit to the Blood Bank. Although the procedure takes slightly longer than a single-unit donation, it accomplishes twice as much. Double red cell donation will save you time spent traveling, parking, and undergoing medical screening on two separate different occasions, because one visit accomplishes two donations.

What Is DRCA?
DRCA is a procedure that allows a donor to give two units of red cells at the same time. This is done by a procedure called "apheresis," which separates whole blood into component parts such as red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. To remove red cells, a needle is placed in your arm, and the blood flows into a sterile, disposable plastic kit installed in a machine designed specifically for this purpose. As blood enters the machine, the bowl is spinning at high speed. This causes the components of the blood to separate so that the red blood cells can be siphoned into a blood bag. Plasma and other parts of the blood are then returned to you through the same needle. The process is repeated to collect two units of red blood cells.

Is DRCA Safe?
Absolutely. The machine and the procedure have been evaluated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and all plastics and needles coming into contact with you are used once and discarded. At no time during the procedure is the blood being returned to you detached from the needle in your arm, so there is no risk of returning the wrong blood to you.

What Are The Donor Requirements?
Because you will be losing more red blood cells than usual during this procedure, donor criteria differ from those for whole blood donation:

Minimum weight - 130 pounds
Minimum height - 5'1"

Minimum weight - 150 pounds
Minimum height - 5'5"

Donors must have a slightly higher red cell count, specifically, a fingerstick hemoglobin level of at least 13.3 gm/dL. To assure that you do not become anemic, the interval between DRCA and subsequent blood donation is four months.

See other Donor Criteria.

How Long Does The Procedure Take?
The time required to remove two units of reds cells is about 45 minutes. Because you'll be with us longer, there will be time to watch TV, read, or just chat with staff and other donors. Every effort will be made to make the experience relaxing and enjoyable.

How do I Arrange to Donate?
Contact an NIH Blood Bank donor recruiter at (301) 496-1048 to make an appointment for DRCA. Blood collection hours are Monday through Thursday, 12:00 pm - 4:30 pm and Friday, 7:30 am - 4:30 pm.

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This page last updated on 10/18/2023

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