The gift of blood

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I choose to write on a topic that may make some persons feel squeamish. I felt the same until February 1, this year when I took the bold step, got rid of my fears and went right ahead. I donated blood for the very first time in my life.

It was an act that I certainly had to put my mind to way in advance of actually going to the National Blood Collecting Centre. Over the years, I heard calls for persons to donate blood for friends, relatives and even strangers and I have always shied away. It was my fear of needles and the sight of blood that caused my anxiety.

Well, no longer could I give into my fears. I had to face up to them and do the good thing. Our association decided a few months ago to do a Blood Drive in our community to encourage persons to give blood. We were driven in part by the National Blood Collecting Centre’s call for blood donations as their stocks were low. We were also driven by the prompting of others from different parts of the world who were reminding us that it was indeed a noble act to give blood.

A few years ago, I was approached by Bilal Markis, a Muslim in the United States, to join a global campaign to encourage people to donate blood. His campaign was called Miracle Come Back (MCB) and he wanted, through this campaign, to have blood drives in every country of the world. His motivation for MCB came from a tragic event but one which had a miraculous outcome. In 2009, his son Rasheed was riding his bicycle when he was hit and run over by two trucks. He lost a tremendous amount of blood and required blood transfusions. There wasn’t much hope for him to survive. It was through blood donations from as many as 46 blood donors that helped saved his life.

The story is an inspiration but the passion to encourage people all over the world to donate blood is even more inspiring. Bilal has managed to have MCB blood drives in several countries in Africa, Far East, North America and now the Caribbean.

In deciding to have a blood drive, our association approached the National Blood Collecting Centre located in Ladymeade Gardens. The response was extremely positive and the reception truly encouraging. I must say that the staff there are welcoming, friendly and really are inviting to persons who want to donate blood. Our association adopted the month of February to do our campaign and encourage members of our community to go out and donate blood. Being involved in this campaign meant that I couldn’t only talk the talk, I had to walk the walk. So on the first day of the month, I set out early for the centre and donated blood. I chose also to Facebook the event; first time as well for me using the Live feature. I hope it would be an incentive to others like me fearful of needles and giving blood. Turns out that there isn’t much to be afraid of. Very little pain and much pleasure – the thought of doing a noble act and helping to save a life.

I have come to learn much about blood and blood donation over the past few weeks. Interestingly, Barbados TODAY, in one of its column in support of Black History Month, on February 3 highlighted Dr Charles Drew, the father of the blood bank. The article points out: “Drew developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma, or blood without cells. Plasma lasts much longer than whole blood, making it possible to be stored or banked for longer periods of time. He discovered that the plasma could be dried and then reconstituted when needed. His research served as the basis of his doctorate thesis, Banked Blood, and he received his doctorate degree in 1940. Drew became the first African-American to earn this degree from Columbia.”

Having made such an important discovery, his expertise was sought out especially during World War 2 when the demand for blood was high. But in the midst of this, racism was still very much at play.

The article continued: “As World War II raged in Europe, Drew was asked to head up a special medical effort known as “Blood for Britain”. He organized the collection and processing of blood plasma from several New York hospitals, and the shipment of these life-saving materials overseas to treat causalities in the war. According to one report, Drew helped collect roughly 14,500 pints of plasma.

“In 1941, Drew spearheaded another blood bank effort, this time for the American Red Cross. He worked on developing a blood bank to be used for US military personnel. But not long into his tenure there, Drew became frustrated with the military’s request for segregating the blood donated by African Americans. At first, the military did not want to use blood from African Americans, but they later said it could only be used for African-American soldiers. Drew was outraged by this racist policy and resigned his post after only a few months.

“After creating two of the first blood banks, Drew returned to Howard University in 1941. He served as a professor there, heading up the university’s department of surgery. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital. Later that year, he became the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.”

Drew died at the young age of 45, leaving behind a legacy of immense value.

Blood banks today exist as a critical and extremely vital part of any medical system. It cannot be overstated that giving blood can help save a life. To say it is a noble act on the part of the giver is not doing justice to the value that is actually has to the recipient. Some of the comments on the Miracle Come Back website bear testimony to the unquestionable value of blood giving:

”Do you feel you don’t have much to offer? You have the most precious resource of all: the ability to save a life by donating blood! Help share this invaluable gift with someone in need.”

”Blood costs nothing to give yet is more valuable than any other resource on earth.”

Having experienced the act of giving blood, I can truly say it is a cherished feeling. Hopefully, some human being who bleeds just like me and may be in dire need can benefit from a pint of my donated blood.

I have also learnt that giving blood helps the donor. Several scientific findings have shown that the health benefits of donating blood include good health, reduced risk of cancer, and damage to liver and pancreas. Donating blood may also help in improving cardiovascular health and reducing obesity.

Some persons may not be capable of giving blood. The Blood Collecting Centre has information on who can and who cannot give. I salute the work they do and the professional manner in which they operate. I also salute those who for years have donated blood and continue to do so.

If you haven’t as yet and you can, take the bold step and give.

“And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all of humankind.”(Holy Quran)

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: suleimanbulbulia@hotmail.com)

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