It’s in You to Give (No, really!)

Jastinne Diaz, Staff Writer
Featuring Mrs. Andison and Abigail Cruz

‘Tis the season! Christmas is upon us—and what better way to give back than to give some blood to those in need? This year, Archbishop MacDonald is taking part in the Blood Bus initiative led by the lovely Mrs. Andison, a biology and chemistry teacher at MAC. You’ve heard about the blood busses on the announcements, you’ve heard about it on MAC News—but what is it really?

We asked Abigail Cruz, a grade 12 student who participated in the blood bus, and Mrs. Andison herself to find out.

Jastinne Diaz: What are the blood buses?

Mrs. Andison: Canadian Blood Services has a program for high school—a high school challenge of sorts—to encourage more students that are of age (17 years or older) to start donating blood, because there’s always a shortage of blood. They contact the schools regularly to see if anyone wants to participate in the program. My previous school [St. Joe’s] was very successful last year—we actually won the challenge!

JD: Really?!

MRS. A: We won it in Edmonton, and I think we may have come in second provincially and fifth nationally as far as [blood] donations.

JD: That’s fantastic!

MRS. A: The goal is essentially to get more kids aware of why donation is so important and to try and get more people donating blood on a regular basis. Sometimes kids are very successful, but sometimes they get denied for various reasons: it could be due to travel, like holidays—going to Mexico, going back home to the Philippines or Thailand or something like that—or sometimes it’s due to sheer size. There are also issues with anemia and low red blood cell count. With all these things occurring in society overall, there’s fewer and fewer people donating. The more new donors we can get, the more encouraging it is.

JD: Why would going on holidays to a region like Mexico lead the blood clinic to refuse somebody’s donation?

MRS. A: There are many regions around the world that are off the donation list, with parts of China, Mexico and Africa included, along with some of the tropical islands. It has to do with the high rates of malaria and hepatitis B present in these regions.

JD: How long is the waiting period after visiting one of these places?

MRS. A: Typically it’s a year.

JD: Which means you cannot donate until that year is over?

MRS. A: Unfortunately, yes. Personally, I wish they would cut it down to eight months.

JD: Do you think they [Canadian Blood Services] think those individuals who traveled to the blacklisted regions become carriers of malaria or something?

MRS. A: That’s what the scare is. Canadian Blood Services want to make sure that the people receiving the blood are as safe as possible, as there is a possibility that individuals who have been in a blacklisted region could be harbouring parasites or viruses in their blood.

JD: Why did you decide to participate in the blood bus?

Abigail Cruz:  My sister donated blood recently and I was like “You know what? I could do that too.”

MRS. A: I started when I was in university as they’d always have clinics set up in the University’s CAB [University of Alberta’s Central Academic Building] area three or four times a year. Traditionally, my group of friends and I would donate and then we’d go to the bar after—but that’s another story.

(Collective chuckle)

JD: Your blood alcohol level must have been really high!

MRS. A: (chuckles) Exactly! Anyways, it was just something we habitually did. And I have O negative blood, so—

JD: Oh, so you’re a universal donor!

MRS. A: Yes, so they call me all the time! There was a number of times when I donated that the nurse would tell me that my donation would be used right away for people who were in dire need, and I just think that’s a really neat thought. There was a lot of kids who were really excited about the fact that we brought this program in, because their parents donate and they’ve always wanted to do it—and now they’ve got an opportunity!

JD: Why is there a height and weight restriction to donate blood?

MRS. A: There’s no variation in the amount of blood that they take. An average-sized individual has about 5 litres of blood in their body. If you are more overweight, you carry a lot more blood in your body than those who are tinier. If you are below average height, that means the blood-to-body ratio is smaller. Taking out 1/10th of the blood capacity of an individual who meets the height and weight requirements may be equivalent to taking out 1/8th of the blood capacity of a smaller individual. Those who don’t meet the height and weight requirements are in that much more danger of fainting and illness, because they don’t have as much blood flowing through them at any one point in time. When I was your age, it used to be a straight “If you’re five feet and a hundred and ten pounds, you’re good to go,” but I have a feeling – and I don’t know this for sure, but – they were having less success with those ratios with more kids fainting and not being able to give the full donation, so they changed their criteria so they would have less problems with donations.

JD: What’s the amount of blood that one usually donates?

MRS. A: They essentially take a pint (450 mL)—so half a liter. I’ve given a lot more than that though!

JD: Would it be fair to say you’ve given half of your body weight in blood?

MRS. A: Probably!

JD: Walk me through the experience of being a donor.

Abigail Cruz: I was nervous, but I was with a friend, so it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. We left school in the morning, got on the blood bus and went to the blood donor clinic at the University of Alberta. They made us do a survey and made us read a couple things about donating blood (specifically what happens during and after giving blood). After that, I waited for my turn to donate. The wait was longer than the time it took to donate the blood, but they kept us well fed with cookies. Once I got settled in the area where they were going to take my blood, they told me the procedure of how they were going to extract it. They then inserted the needle, and we waited for the bag to fill up to the maximum capacity. After the bag was filled and they took out the needle, I had to wait five minutes to see whether or not I would have some sort of reaction as a result of my donation.

JD: Seems like you had a fun time!

AC: I got a cold sweat while I was giving blood, though.

JD: Did you?!

AC: Yeah. I had to wait a couple minutes longer than five after that to see whether or not I was okay.

JD: What was going through your mind when this was happening?

AC: As they were taking my blood, I felt totally fine. But once they took out the needle, I felt my internal temperature drop and I felt sweat on my forehead. [The staff at the Blood Donor Clinic] said to tell one of the people helping out with the donations if I felt anything weird, and when I did, they just lifted up my feet and got all the blood rushing to my brain and left me in that position for a few minutes. I was okay afterwards.

JD: You said earlier that prior to giving blood you had to do a survey. What was in this survey?

AC: It asked if I had any diseases in my blood, whether if I had been in contact with anyone with known diseases in their blood, and if I was sexually active.

JD: What was their explanation of what happens during your donation?

AC: They told me I would lie down on a bed and that I had to hold a stress ball during the donation so my blood could keep flowing.

MRS. A: Well, you’re always lying down because they want to make sure all your blood is at the same level as your heart. By having your feet elevated, it helps to improve blood flow. And they serve you cookies and juice the whole time (before, during, and after donating) to make sure your blood sugar level is up and that you’re well hydrated.

JD: Ah, so that explains the reminders in the dialog box when you sign up for a PLT. “Remember to eat,” “Remember to drink something.”

MRS. A: That’s because they don’t want you to faint. You’re losing a portion of your blood and your body is under stress, so you want to be at the optimal level before you put your body through that kind of stress. There are some negative things that can occur. I have seen some individuals have a negative reaction where they come off the donation floor and faint, and I’ve had some students in a situation where the nurse cannot find the vessels in their arms. I’ve also had students in the donation phase who only get a small portion in the bag before the blood stops flowing due to a closed vein. In that situation, the process has to be stopped and the student can’t donate for another 56 days*.

*(NOTE: According to the Canadian Blood Services website, the plasma portion of a donation is replaced within hours and the platelet portion within days. Red blood cells are replenished in about 56 days, which is why the frequency of donation is once every 56 days.)

JD: How was your personal experience with giving blood?

MRS. A: Personally, I’ve actually had pretty good experiences with giving blood—which is why I go back time and time again. I just sit there for five minutes and I go in and out—I’ve never had an adverse reaction. However, I have been denied to donate a couple of times.

JD: Why?

MRS. A: Through life and having babies and surgeries—I had, at one point, a low iron content in my blood, so I had to wait until that got better. But I’m back at it!

JD: Is there a way for those who do not meet the height and weight restrictions to get involved with this initiative?

MRS. A: Canadian Blood Services is actually coming to our school on December 4th to do a presentation during the PLT; it’s a “What’s Your Type” event where individuals who do not meet the height and weight restriction can find out what blood type they are. It’s just a simple finger poke! There is also the bone marrow registry program—if you’re interested in donating bone marrow, they [Canadian Blood Services] will have a swabbing process so that you can get on the registry. They will just swab a cheek cell from you to see what your DNA codings are and possibly match you up to someone in need of a bone marrow transplant. It’s not like you’re obligated to donate once you put yourself in the registry, though—if they find a match for you, they’ll call you and you have the choice to donate. And they need people of many different ethnicities in the registry as there are many similarities between ethnic groups—

JD: —and Mac is a diverse community, so perhaps an influx of students in the registry can go a long way!

MRS. A: Yes, exactly! And for those who currently don’t meet the height and weight restrictions for donating blood—after the age of 23, different criteria comes into play. It has to do with the fact that they believe you’re fully grown, things have matured, your reactions to situations of stress such as donating blood will change…and you will then be able to donate.

JD: Any final thoughts?

AC: It’s an interesting experience and I would definitely do it again!

MRS. A: So far we’ve taken about thirty Mac students—of course, most of them being grade 12’s with the odd grade 11—and we have a population of about 300 grade 12’s. So I challenge those grade 12’s who are able to think about joining the blood bus and giving that gift of life. Hopefully they have a positive experience and carry that on and encourage others they know to do the same.

The next blood bus will take place on December 8th and another one will follow on December 11th. After the December blood buses, there will be another bus in February 2016 and another bus close to the end of May 2016. (Grad bucket list, anyone?) This challenge will officially end on May 31, 2016. Should you have any questions, head over to blood.ca or talk to Mrs. Andison!

FUN FACT: Type O Blood was actually meant to be Type Zero blood, due to the lack of glycoproteins in the red blood cells. It was misread and is now called Type “O” blood. I guess you could call it a typo.

Want to know if you’re are eligible to become a donor? Take the eligibility quiz at here.

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