Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Walking Blood Bank

Have you been to a blood bank?  You know, the place that hounds you with phone calls once you've visited once - you set up an appointment every eight weeks or so - give a unit of blood, get some donuts.... Maybe a mobile blood bank has come to your church, workplace, grocery store parking lot, or even your fitness center to collect some of that valuable liquid gold you have flowing through your veins.

Well, in West Africa blood banks don't exist.

In Sierra Leone the Emergency Hospital had a sign out front that said to bring your own blood donors.  And that is how it works.  If you need surgery, you bring your own blood.  That means finding someone who can donate for you.  Someone with your same blood type, someone with clean blood - not HIV positive.  The challenge can be high.

Here on the ship, we have a bit of a vampire culture.  Being here can suck the blood right out of you, pun completely intended.  You see, with a crew of roughly 400 people, we have a living, breathing blood bank right at our fingertips. 

If interested, crew members can fill out an interest form (along with all the safety precautions and questions from at home*) and be added to the pool of blood donors.  Every three months you are greeted with a little note on your door asking you to stop by the lab (just down three flights of stairs for us), for a fresh sample.

(*despite not being able to give blood at home because we are on anti-malarial medications, this is the one factor that is different in our eligibility here on the ship).

This week, my sample was found to be a little lacking in iron, so I'll be beefing up my red meat consumption again. 

But Dan's blood sample was robust and ready to go.  And his A+ blood type was matched to a precious patient coming for surgery on Thursday, April 5th.  This meant another note on the door and a reminder to be on ship during the morning in case they needed him.  And need him they did.

Dan was paged to the OR to bring his blood to a patient in need. 

Akpene, this 19 year old young woman showed up here at the port after seeking treatment in neighboring country, Benin, but being turned away due to lack of money.  We are so glad she found her way here. Our maxilo-facial surgeon Dr. Gary Parker said that within one year this tumor would have suffocated her.

On Thursday she underwent surgery and is doing very well.  She looks a lot different than this right now. 

So we are glad to have the opportunity to be directly involved in saving lives.  Dan's Thursday was a little richer due to the fact that he knew his blood was flowing in other veins, but providing the same benefit of life. 

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