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Apheresis Airmen: Fangs of the AOR

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cynthia A. Innocenti
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar After more than two years of planning and execution, the apheresis element of the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group at Al Udeid AB became fully operational March 6.


This team of four Airmen is dedicated to providing platelet product, tiny blood cells that help form clots to stop bleeding, within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and also performs whole blood collection in the event of an emergency.  


“Apheresis is our primary job while at Al Udeid; everything else comes second,” said Lt. Col Carol West, officer in charge of the 379th EMDG Apheresis Element. “Apheresis is the process of removing blood for a specific part of it, like platelets, and returning the rest back into your body.”


Staff Sgt. Jonathan Flannigan, NCO in charge of the apheresis element, explained that blood platelets are a cell in the body that’s main function is to act as a clotting agent. This is an important asset in the field where there may not be immediate access to a medical facility. A patient who is bleeding out can be transfused with blood platelets to help stop the bleeding.


The current team built upon the previous teams' work to finish instrument validations; conduct operational qualifications to ensure all personnel operating the equipment are properly trained; hold performance qualifications to ensure the proper performance of the equipment; and ensure processes are in place to draw platelet yields as close to Food and Drug Administration standards as possible.


Before arriving at Al Udeid, apheresis Airmen also train for two weeks learning how to draw blood and the process for using the Trima Accel Automated Blood Collection System, the machine they use to obtain blood platelets from donors. This specialty training differs from regular whole blood donations because of the larger needle used and length of time it will be in the patient’s vein, sometimes up to two hours.


With the element being fully operational now, they have filled their halls with willing donors to help with validations and donations.


The team is also looking into the future of blood platelet performance and use. They have been tasked alongside another apheresis team in CENTCOM to perform a validation study on cold platelets, which offers a different way of storing the asset in order to assist with transportation of the blood product.


Platelets stored at room temperature have a longer life span, but are more inconvenient to keep at that specific temperature. Validating cold platelets will benefit personnel using, storing and transporting them tremendously because of the less cumbersome process of storage.


“Our team has come in and hit the ground running, taking what the previous team has built even further,” said West. “I think this team has done fantastic work and we will continue to align our procedures for the success of the group.”


Senior Airman John Ronan, an apheresis technician with the 379th EMDG, explained it is easy to get into a monotonous routine while deployed because of time and distance from family, but he said in his current position on the apheresis team he feels important to the mission every day.

“During my short stay at Al Udeid, I have been given a tremendous opportunity to impact the entire AOR,” said Ronan. “Blood units collected here can make it to the front lines, possibly save a life, and send someone back home to their family.”