Shedding Blood [Platelets] for Others

Our Current Climate

The age of social distancing has made it difficult to love others in the ways that we’re comfortable with.  Of the five love languages, only words of affirmation remains unscathed by the regulations we seek to follow for the sake of public health. Acts of service, gifts, physical touch, and quality time have all taken a serious hit as a result of our careful attempts to curb the virus’ spread. Some, including myself, have tried our hand at some written notes. We’ve called friends and loved ones. We’ve stayed home. But we’ve also yearned for more tangible ways to love our neighbors and community.

A discipline that I’ve engaged in quite a bit over the past year has recently rushed to the center of my attention.  That is the practice of platelet donation. While the entirety of the medical world braces for the peak impacts of this pandemic, the consistent need for platelets has not abated. A myriad of conditions, including various lymphomas, hemophilia, and severe burns all require that patients receive life-sustaining platelets in a timely manner. Not only has the need for this service continued, but I believe that the metaphor it creates and the discipline it builds are invaluable to the life of one desiring to look more like Christ.

My Story with Platelet Donation

Several years ago, a mentor of mine shared with me his passion for why he donates blood. Every eight weeks he had a red bandage on his arm and I’d wonder what motivated him to so consistently relinquish his blood.  “Why do you donate blood so often?” I asked him. “Because it’s a vivid way to put the gospel into practice,” he responded. I could immediately tell that he’d put a lot of thought into this. He went on to explain that the physicality of shedding his own blood for someone who needs it more was a way of preaching the gospel to himself. Not only this, but it put into practice Paul’s command to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

After this dinner with my mentor, I was shaken. Not only do I have so far to go regarding my service to others, but I often find that my feeble attempts at sacrificial living sputter and fade. Fearing man, I do the dishes for my roommates in order to appear good in their eyes. I reach out to a struggling friend in order to silence the nagging voice that says “but a good friend would…” Desiring to be a well-accomplished individual, I pursue worthy character traits such as self-discipline, courage, and patience for no reason other than to feel success at changing myself. Needless to say, my motivations for serving others are often greatly lacking. However, while a senior at UNC – Chapel Hill, I discovered the necessity of calling my motivations into question. Am I doing this to make myself, my brother or sister, or the world happy? Am I doing this to pursue a fleeting sense of accomplishment, pride, or security in my own mind? Or am I doing this because it glorifies Christ, both in my life, and hopefully in the minds and lives of others?

Initially, donating platelets was something that I did out of a vague sense of guilt. I felt bad for rarely pouring out my time and resources for ministry. I wasn’t calling much of my life into subjection under the Gospel. I had no idea how much the Lord would work on my haphazard attempts to serve others, transforming my idea of what it could mean to love those around me.

The Elimination of Pride

I often feel a small sense of pride upon completing a donation. However, this pride runs for cover when I get a donation email. About two weeks after donating platelets, donors receive a simple email describing the nature of their donation. For example, “Your recent contribution was used to help a 54 year-old male recover from severe burns and a 10 year-old female surgery-patient.” With no more information, I cannot know who I’ve actually served.

I feel the palpable desire to see gratitude in someone else’s eyes. I wanted to be celebrated and recognized, nay worshiped. We are often, in fact, lovers of self. I believe that we all struggle with this. The desire to be loved because of what we do and how we contribute, and not because of who we are is a real fracture in the fallen human heart. Interestingly enough, you never get to shake the hand, know the name, or even see the face of the individual you help. You just know that your body’s regenerative properties are being used to help someone who is struggling.  God’s work, not your own, is being powerfully channeled to give life to someone else. How can we boast?

The Glorification of Christ:

These reflections would be far from complete if I stopped at a mere minimization of pride.  For what would fill its place? As Paul exhorted at the end of his letter to the Philippians, we must think often on “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Greater men and women than us have taken heart to seriously rejoice in what Christ has powerfully worked within us. For every good work that we do, we must recall that it is but a small, dim reflection of the great work that Christ has done within us. Jesus’ death on the cross provides salvation to all of us who believe in him. The transformative work that happens in the heart of every believer saves us from the evil and temporal nature of this world and delivers us into right standing with God. Our death is put to death.

Your choice to donate platelets can prolong, at most, three lives. In no attempt to minimize the magnitude and importance of this work, I cannot help but feel awe at my Lord’s completion of my salvation. The most that we can do is nothing compared to what Christ has done by redeeming the multitude of believers from spiritual decay and death.

A growing knowledge of what God has done in us for his glory has transformed my pride in serving others into a deep appreciation and reverence for Him who I desire to pursue and be more like every day. Service that allows us to forget about ourselves and think more of Jesus is critical to our mission.

A Practical Point regarding Safety

Donating platelets poses no extraordinary risk of transmission of the coronavirus. COVID-19 is not transmitted via blood or platelets, and thus, patients and staff are not creating any unnecessary risk by continuing this practice. The virus is almost exclusively spread by droplets in our exhaled air from coughing, sneezing, or breathing. Mandatory masks, gloves, and thorough cleaning at the hospital create a very safe environment for these donations.

Why to Donate Platelets, Not Blood

A combination of experience and research have convinced me that donating platelets is a more efficacious method of serving those around us. Let me be completely clear: both practices are lifesaving. However, the following reasons have deeply impacted my thinking in recent years and caused me to turn towards platelet donations through a local hospital.

  • Platelets can be donated every week. If your schedule allows, you can set up a regular time to donate.
  • Donating platelets through your local hospital, such as UNC, allows you to serve and impact members of your community.
  • You are actually saving money for your hospital. Every donation they receive keeps them from turning to more expensive organizations to purchase life-saving platelets.
  • You actually get to know the nurses and doctors. Building relationships and getting to know the people who work in this industry is so encouraging.

Additional Notes

I do not foolishly contend that this is the only, or premiere, means of living sacrificially for others. Countless individuals find countless honorable pursuits to glorify the Lord in their everyday lives. This is simply one that I have particularly fallen in love with due to its vivid mimicry of the gospel message.

If you are at all interested in the practice of donating platelets, please reach out to me. I understand the anxieties and worries that surround needles, blood, and pain. If you are on the fence, I can assure you of the joy that lies in counting others more significant in this regard. You may be uncomfortable, you may not enjoy the experience, but the potential to glorify God in this activity is very real and edifying to the believer.