A bloody gift

It’s something everyone knows they should do, but nobody really wants to: give blood.

Donating blood is one of those things I congratulated other people for doing, but, until recently, had never done myself. Since turning 17 — the minimum age to donate — I’d used a hectic schedule and low iron levels to convince myself that giving blood just wasn’t for me.

But after months of dutifully taking my iron supplement, I figured it was time to make the time.

Josh Baitz and Julia Kirby know a thing or two about devoting time to blood donation. The two students co-chair the Queen’s University Blood Team. The team works with Canadian Blood Services to run blood donation clinics on campus, as well as the One Match program, which seeks out matches for those in need of bone marrow and stem cells.

“We like to provide people with the opportunity to do something altruistic and nice without having to open their wallets or anything like that, which I think is unique and a really special opportunity,” said Baitz, ArtSci ’15.

It’s an opportunity students are taking. Although I’d intended to donate at one of the clinics the team was running out of BioSci earlier this week, it was already booked up days ahead of time and I ended up at Kingston’s permanent clinic.

According to the man who checked me in there, this wasn’t unusual or even surprising. The clinics run out of Queen’s are some of the most popular in the province.

This past September, that interest was especially vital. Canadian Blood Services was suffering a crisis with their worst levels of donation since 2006. When they reached out to the Queen’s University Blood Team to say they’d take all walk-ins at the clinic the team was hosting, students stepped up.

This was a rare case — usually, clinics accept some walk-ins, but are too busy to accept all of them. When that clinic closed, 110 units of blood had been donated, 63 of which were from first-time donors. A full clinic normally sees 65 units donated in total.

Opportunities to help those in need extend even to those unable to donate themselves.

“Even if you can’t donate your blood, you can help us out with our initiatives and donate your time, which we really appreciate, and you’re still helping the whole giving blood initiative,” Baitz said.

Aside from a fear of needles, a few things might hold you back from donating blood. There’s a height and weight ratio that must be met by anyone under 23, and any travelling you’ve done recently might prevent your donation from being accepted. Then there are those, like me, with low iron.

Men who have had sex with other men within the last five years are also ineligible to donate blood, as Canadian Blood Services believe them to be at a higher risk for HIV/AIDS.

Once you arrive at the clinic, a small blood sample will be taken from a pinprick in one finger and tested for haemoglobin levels. So long as the blood contains at least 125 g haemoglobins for every litre of blood donated, you can continue to a nurse who injects a needle into the vein in your arm and collects a pint of blood.

Although I was only just able to scrape by the required level of haemoglobins through supplementation, for some it’s as simple as watching their diet in the days leading up to a clinic.

“The week leading up to when I donate, I’ll eat a lot of spinach and some red meat and clams have a lot of it and I’m usually fine. But if I don’t, I’ve been rejected a couple times,” said Kirby, ArtSci ’15.

One of the most common questions Kirby hears is whether donating will hurt. While it’s not comfortable, she said, it’s definitely worth it.

“I can be uncomfortable for 15 minutes in order for somebody to live,” Kirby said.

When she puts it that way, it’s hard to argue that donation isn’t for me, or anyone who can participate.

“If you meet the restrictions, if you’re healthy that day and if you haven’t been travelling and all that stuff, what’s holding you back, other than the opportunity to donate?” Kirby said.

Nobody plans to need a donation, but when you do, the importance of donating couldn’t be clearer.

“There is always a need for blood. For example, a car crash victim will need 50 units of blood, roughly. That’s fifty people to save their life, so without donors, that wouldn’t be a possibility,” Kirby said.

“Anybody can need it and you never know when. So if your family is the one that needs it, you want there to be a supply for them.”

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