Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sunday Sermon: Give Blood and Save a Life


The first place I ever gave blood was in the Fine Arts Auditorium at my high school, when I was a junior or senior. I felt proud to be a part of something that felt bigger and more important than me. I went on to give blood any time there was a blood drive, usually on the high school or college campus.

After college, I didn't get the chance to donate for a while due to a series of temporary deferments - tattoos, piercings, pregnancy. I mistakenly believed I couldn't give while breastfeeding as well, though that turns out to have been untrue.

It hadn't occurred to me to give blood again until I moved back to the US in 2013. In April 2014, a series of tornadoes swept through Arkansas, leaving a path of destruction through the nearby town of Vilonia. My neighbor and good friend Amy had close friends in Vilonia, so the relief efforts became personal to me. She and I went to the disaster site to help clear the wreckage, and we collected donations of clothing and other supplies for the victims of the tornado. It occurred to me then to also give blood.

I had two kids not in school yet, so I prepared Lolly with a fully charged tablet and a bag of snacks and toys for Jaguar, put the stroller in the trunk, and drove the kids to Little Rock so I could donate blood. When I got to the blood donation center, I was handed a clipboard with forms and a checklist of criteria to meet. I started to fill in the forms when I saw some information I had not expected; because of my time living in the UK, I was deferred from giving*. For life.

Trying to stay composed, I returned the clipboard to one of the workers and took the children back to the car. I turned on the ignition but before I could back out of the parking space, I burst into tears. I sobbed into the steering wheel, devastated that I would never be able to give blood again for the rest of my life. Deferred for life. I cried for a solid five minutes before composing myself and driving back home.

Now I work for the American Red Cross, and every day I feel sadness over my inability to donate blood. I was good at donating; I could give a pint fast with no side effects, no dizziness. I've learned since working here about platelet donations too, and my heart hurts knowing I could absolutely give that kind of time to give platelets (it's more time consuming, so platelet donations are harder to come by).

The Red Cross has issued an emergency appeal for blood and platelets due to a severe winter shortage. With holidays and bad weather, fewer people are able to get out to donate and blood drives can often be cancelled due to weather. This year, with Hurricane Matthew, many blood drives were cancelled. Right now, blood is being distributed to hospitals faster than it's coming in.

Another thing I've learned in my new job is the need for blood to be already "on the shelf" in case of an emergency. After donation, there is 24 hours before the blood is ready to be given to another person. When disasters like tornadoes or Hurricane Matthew occur, blood needs to be ready and waiting right then. People tend to flock to donation centers after disasters, which is fantastic, but those blood products are not available until a day later.

Blood and blood products help emergency victims, cancer patients and all kinds of people with other life-threatening illnesses or undergoing surgeries. When I had my c-section, with the risk of hemorrhage I was under (the placenta was going to have to be cut through to get Fifi out), the surgeons had blood waiting for me right there, should I need it.

It breaks my heart that I am not able to do my part anymore in donating blood. So I implore all of you reading this, in whatever country you are in - if you are able to donate blood or platelets, please do! Roll up a sleeve and save a life. Do it on my behalf. My friend Elizabeth, during the Vilonia tornado, heard my story and donated blood for me. It made me cry all over again. If you decide to give blood after reading this, please let me know. I may not be able to give my own blood, but if I can urge multiple people to go in my place, I'll have done more than only I could have done to start with.

That's my sermon for this Sunday morning. Let's save lives and give now. If you can't give blood yourself, ask someone else to donate in your place. I truly believe that together, we can make a difference around the world and save innumerable lives.

For a list of blood drives in Arkansas, visit the Arkansas Red Alert blog. For other blood drives across the US, visit redcross.org/give-blood.


*While writing this blog, I did some additional research into eligibility criteria, and I am starting to wonder if the information I was given that day was incorrect or has since changed. I will be finding out first thing Monday morning when I arrive to work! Our office is also a blood donation center, so I'm going to be getting some clarification! 

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