Sunday, 11 April 2010

Donating Blood...

Last Thursday (8th April), late in the evening, I was sent the message "1734" to my pager. If you know the ship quite well, then you'll know instinctively that the numbers "1734" are the phone extension for the Laboratory down in the Hospital.

They needed my blood for a patient whose haemoglobin count had dropped to around 5,0 after a surgery to remove some facial tumours.

It is a painless process donating blood and I am always blown away that here your blood is taken straight out of your body and this healthy, whole blood is given directly into the patient's body - while it is still warm! It is certainly a special privilege to be able to help a patient in the Hospital - especially for a crew member whose job doesn't really involve the Hospital.

On that note, here is a story about the Mercy Ships blood donor programme that I wrote in Liberia a couple of years ago. Enjoy!

A patient in the ward is bleeding profusely. A life is at stake. There is no blood bank available. To whom do you turn in such a situation?

This is where the M/V Africa Mercy’s blood donor programme comes into play. The Mercy Ship does not have a refrigerated blood bank, so crew members are quite literally walking blood banks.

As a blood donor, you may be called upon at any moment, day or night, to donate blood to save a life. The call may come in the form of a phone call or perhaps even an overhead page. Overhead paging is acceptable in this situation, as it is an emergency.

To be a blood donor on the ship all you need be is willing – and available – if the need arises. At present of the 350 or so crew members on the ship, there are 50 to 60 blood donors. But some of these work off-ship and are unable to donate, and those who have donated within two months are also not available.

The blood do
nor programme can literally exhaust the donors’ blood supply (for a certain blood type) in a day, so creating awareness for more donors is important. As Ruth Payne, one of the Medical Lab Technicians, says:

“We'll go a couple of weeks sometimes without having to give a blood donation to anybody and then we'll have several days in a row where we end up giving six or more units to a couple of different patients.”

They are thus always looking for new donors. To participate, just fill out a form, have a brief check-up with the Crew Physician, and then give a sample of blood for analysis.

“We do a blood type [screen], we do a screen to make sure there's no unusual antibodies that would cause a transfusion reaction in a patient,” says Ruth Payne, “We also run a Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, Syphilis and HIV test.”

Once the sample has been screened, you are placed on the donor list. If a patient requires a unit of your blood, then you may very well be called upon. Blood donation is a relatively safe, painless process:

“Most adults have something like twelve units of blood in their circulatory system, so taking one out is not going to adversely affect the donor at all.”

The only side effect may be a slight feeling of faintness and nausea. So be sure to eat well and drink plenty of fluids before – and after – a donation. Resting up is also important after a donation.

The M/V
Africa Mercy blood donor programme is unique. It is quite special that crew members are given the opportunity and, indeed, the privilege of actually giving their blood to a patient and helping save a life. It is another act of service on the Mercy Ship.

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