Bitten by the Blood Bug


Donating blood may not be a popular habit for many persons, but for Medical Officer, South East Regional Health Authority, Dr. Yohance Rodriguez, he has felt the urge to give the “gift of life” since his high school days.
Because of his age, he was not allowed to make his first donation until he was enrolled in Medical School, when he consented to donate blood for his friend’s uncle, who would be undergoing surgery.
It was this one opportunity that fuelled his passion to continue to donate and help others. “After the first time, upon seeing how easy it was and that I was qualified, I just started making it a regular habit. I came back three months later and the rest is history,” he tells JIS News.
Dr. Rodriguez deems giving blood as his contribution to mankind. “I know there is a need for blood and if I can fill a need then it is a good thing to do. Sometimes you must not see giving as something being taken from us, but as an opportunity to do something,” he adds.
Emphasising the need for voluntary donors like Dr. Rodriquez, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sheila Campbell-Forrester explains that blood is needed for a number of reasons, including treating accident victims and other emergency purposes.
“What is also important is that if we are due for surgery, we need to ensure that there is blood, as if anything happens we can be given blood to increase our haemoglobin or the loss that you may have had,” she tells JIS News.
For those persons who shudder at the sight of needles, and turn pale at the thought of donating blood, Dr. Rodriguez assures that giving blood is a relatively painless exercise, that is over in 30 to 45 minutes.
Dr. Rodriguez is urging donors to open an account at the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS).
Such an account, he notes, guarantees access to this precious commodity. “Sometimes you can’t give blood when it is needed, whether because you gave too recently and you can’t give for another few months or you don’t have the time to make it to the Blood Bank. Because I have a blood bank account, I have been able to quickly meet the need in the past of family members and friends who needed blood,” he tells JIS News.
Although there is blood in storage, the Health Ministry’s CMO bemoans the inadequate quantity of blood received annually. The annual target set by the Blood Bank is 30,000 units of blood. However, this target has never been achieved. The NBTS is aiming to overshoot the target in 2010. Up to May, the NBTS collected 11,000 units of blood.
“We need to have a stock of supply in place. It is so important to have a good stock. We need between 50,000 and 80,000 a year to satisfy the needs of the population,” Dr. Campbell-Forrester points out.
Therefore, she is appealing to persons aged 17 to 60 years, who are in good health and weigh more than 110 pounds or 40 kilograms, to visit any collection centre across the island and become a regular donor.
To determine if persons are eligible to donate, each potential donor is taken through a pre-screening process. During this session they are asked questions related to travel, medication and general health. In addition to checking their blood pressure and pulse, a small blood sample is taken to identify the person’s blood type and ensure that they are not anaemic.
Donors are encouraged to have a good night’s rest and a meal half an hour to three hours before donating.
“We don’t think that blood is to be wasted, so we are very careful about the pre-screening,” stresses Dr. Campbell-Forrester.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rodriguez notes that in addition to the joy of knowing that he has helped someone, on each occasion while giving blood, he is checked for blood-borne diseases.
“Every time you give blood, your blood is tested freely for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus Type 1 (HTLV-I), Hepatitis B and C, and Syphilis. You also get your blood count tested, so yes, that’s another benefit to me. If something is wrong it will show up in the tests,” he says.
Dr. Campbell-Forrester further informs that donating blood helps to replenish the body. “Our bone marrow is what produces the red blood cells and when you give blood that’s part of what the blood is made of,” she notes. “They carry oxygen to the other parts of the body. When you give blood you also give the bone marrow a chance to produce these cells, so you have some new cells generated in your body,” she adds.
Dr. Rodriguez donates blood three to four times per year. He explains that donors are given approximately three months for the blood count to be restored and for the body to adequately recuperate.
“Just start and you will notice how easy it is and you will be motivated to go back.
For anybody thinking about giving blood or even if you have never thought about, it is a good thing to do for the wider society,” he says.
“It eventually comes back and helps you or your family. Just think about what you would want somebody to do for you or your loved one if you were in a position where you needed the help,” Dr. Rodriguez adds.

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