For nearly two decades Donald Bagley, 66, has donated platelets, the clotting factor in blood, helping hundreds of cancer, surgery and emergency patients across Atlanta.
It’s estimated that Bagley has potentially helped 750 people, as one donation can save up to three lives. But while Bagley holds the record for second most platelet donations at Northside Hospital’s Atlanta Blood Services, that’s not why he does it.
“I donate because I think I’m doing something good for my brother or sister, and it’s something that is badly needed,” Bagley said. “People just don’t donate, so I just feel that I’ll do my part if others don’t.”
Bagley is a Lawrenceville resident who moved to Georgia in 1997 from Ohio. On Jan. 30, during National Blood Donor Month, he celebrated his 260th donation.
“He is absolutely humble and selfless and willing to do whatever he needs to do to help,” Nancy Herring, donor recruitment supervisor at ABS, said. “He works full time in Gwinnett and drives to Northside Hospital to donate. It takes a lot of effort and dedication.”
Bagley has worked at Pella Windows and Doors Distribution for the past 22 years. About two times each month he travels to Atlanta after work to donate platelets. He said the entire donation process takes him about an hour and a half. He uses the time to watch documentaries.
The process is called apheresis and allows for the donor to give whatever blood component is most urgently needed, such as platelets, red blood cells or plasma. Most patients requiring transfusions only need one or two blood components.
Both arms are used during platelet donation. Blood is drawn from one of the person’s arms using a single needle. It then takes a spin in a centrifuge to separate a portion of the platelets. The remaining blood and platelets are then returned to the person through the other arm. It can be done either in cycles or continuously.
According to ABS, in general, cancer patients are the leading users of platelets, but the bulk of ABS’ platelets are used by the bone marrow transplant patients at Northside Hospital.
For Bagley, it all started over 30 years ago when a church member and friend requested that the congregation consider donating platelets for her husband, who was battling cancer at the time. According to Herring, chemotherapy and radiation can interfere with cancer patients’ ability to produce platelets.
“I had donated blood before, so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll donate blood platelets’ and I went down to Atlanta Blood Services to donate,” Bagley said. “About a couple weeks later, they called and asked me if I would consider donating again, so I said sure, and that’s been going on for the last 17 years.”
Bagley said he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon. He said he has a little friendly competition with another donor, James Arnett, who has already reached 300 platelet donations at ABS. Bagley said he hopes to reach 275 donations this year and 300 next year.
Bagley’s friend eventually recovered from cancer and is now doing fine. But as Bagley learned more about the different ways he could donate, he decided to start giving platelets over whole blood donations more often.
This is because platelet donations can be made every week, while whole blood donations can only be made every 56 days, Herring said. A single donation of platelets also has a yield of several more transfusable units than whole blood donations.
“I wanted to be able to donate as much as I could,” Bagley said, “and platelet donation gave me a reason to donate more frequently.”
Herring said she knows Bagley is just happy to be in a position where he can donate. Although he knows it’s helping to save lives, he doesn’t focus on how many.
“But I see it,” she said. “I work with those patients every day and know what happens when they need those transfusions. He just does it because he can, and we need more people like that.”
Bagley said it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s just my belief in acts of service,” he said. “You do things in church and you do things outside of church. This is what I do outside of church — donate platelets.”
According to Herring, ABS collected over 6,000 units of platelets last year. In general, she said, to meet basic expected demand right now, ABS needs to collect 30 units every day, six days a week. Those donations are then distributed over the course of seven days.
Patients receive transfusions even on holidays since platelet donations are in constant demand by hospitals. Herring said ABS can’t wait until there is a need.
“Just do it,” she said. “Give it a try. It’s a relatively painless process. Beyond the needle stick, there’s nothing that’s going to hurt. You never know when it’s going to be you or someone you love who is going to have a need.”
Herring said new donors should call ABS beforehand so they can get pre-screened over the phone, which just requires answering eight to 10 questions. Potential donors then go through a health screening. Once all of that is done, the entire platelet donation process can last up to two-and-a-half hours.
This year’s ABS platelet donor T-shirt says, “Be the Good in the World.” Herring said Bagley is the good.