Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Gabrielle’s blood drive a hit - Youngest donor for 2020 collects 55 units

Published:Saturday | August 15, 2020 | 12:25 AMJamila Litchmore/Special Projects and Engagement Editor
Clean Sweep sanitised donor beds in-between donations.
Clean Sweep sanitised donor beds in-between donations.

The National Blood Transfusion Service’s (NBTS) youngest donor for 2020, Gabrielle Hoo, collected 55 units at her first blood drive.

Held at the Kiwanis Collection Centre at the National Chest Hospital on July 25, Hoo’s drive will impact some 165 lives.

The 16-year-old says the idea to host a blood drive took root while she was making her second voluntary donation to the Blood Bank.

“[One] of the phlebotomists at the National Blood Transfusion Service mentioned how bad things had gotten since the pandemic, and mentioned I could have a blood drive of my own if I could find a location and arrange for 40 people to agree to donate,” Hoo told The Gleaner.

She later saw this shortage first-hand after a week of volunteering in registration at the Blood Bank.

“I noticed that many people donating were only giving for a particular person. This troubled me for many reasons, one being, that if one had no family, friends or social media to call on when [they needed] blood, does that mean [they] would never receive the blood [needed] to survive? Or, if I was in an accident and needed blood immediately, does that mean I would have to sit for hours waiting for the blood to save my life?” Hoo questioned.

The young donor went on to speak to doctors who shared that the shortage of blood often resulted in patients waiting for up to two weeks in a hospital bed or the doctors themselves donating blood during their lunch break so that their patients could undergo necessary surgery.

Determined to make an impact and raise awareness about the severe blood shortage in Jamaica, plans for the staging of the blood drive began in earnest.

“I have never planned an event like this before. However, my mother is slightly experienced in planning events, so she was a big help in organising sponsors and calling people to sign up,” said Hoo.

The Blood Bank was integral in the process, with NBTS Medical Officer Dr Danielle Levy creating posters and social media posts, and with the assistance of the organisation’s staff, helping to guide Hoo.

Hoo and her friends made a video, which they posted to social media, explaining how the coronavirus pandemic had impacted donations at the Blood Bank and urging users to do their part in alleviating the shortage.

Sponsors also played a big role. Main sponsor, The Paper Place, funded Clean Sweep, who sanitised donor beds after each donation and paid for T-shirts and face masks for all volunteers and staff working on the day. The paper distributors also paid for catering for all donors.

In the morning, Shibumi Jamaica provided vegan breakfast boxes, while Ben Britton provided jerk chicken and callaloo rice for lunch in the afternoon.

Other sponsors included Prestige Bakery, National Baking Company and Betapac Limited.

“Before the drive, I reached out to Prestige Bakery who agreed to provide us with some delicious doughnuts for the day. Additionally, I wrote an email to National [Baking Company], asking for some gift baskets and called a representative at Betapac Limited for some as well. They both were gracious enough to donate nine baskets in total,” said Hoo.

Donors booked their appointments for the drive using the Blood Bank’s online appointment system, which has been instrumental in saving time and maintaining physical distancing at collection centres islandwide.

“Having the appointment system allows persons the peace of mind to know that they will get in and out of the building within a reasonable time. It eases the fear of crowding and wasted time within the facility,” said Dr Levy.

She thanked the team from Citizens Response JA and ePost Caribbean for the integration of the scheduling application on the organisation’s website.

Dr Levy says that Gabrielle’s Blood Drive will go a long way in assisting the Blood Bank.

“The impact was twofold,” said Dr Levy. “Firstly, with 55 units collected, that means 165 lives will be positively impacted. Each unit can save up to three lives.” The drive also helped to change attitudes towards blood donation, showing potential donors that all can get involved and donating can be a ‘family affair’.

“Gabrielle, our youngest donor for 2020, is 16 years old and has already made two voluntary donations with parental consent. We want persons to see that you can start donating blood from a young age and get your friends and family involved,” said Dr Levy.

LARGE TURNOUT

Family and friends turned out for Hoo in their numbers, with more than 68 donors showing up at the Kiwanis Collection Centre.

“I was very surprised by the turnout. Originally, I was only expecting about 40 people to come, maximum. But a day before the blood drive so many people signed up and even more turned up on the actual day. We had about 68 people come to donate, but many were turned away because of low blood count,” said Hoo.

Following the example of Hoo, three donors, having not yet reached the age of 17, donated with parental consent.

With plans to return to school August 22, Hoo who attends the St Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, is looking forward to making her third donation when her three-month wait period is up, and hopes to make the blood drive an annual event.

For Dr Levy, the excitement around donations is palpable.

“We have seen a significant increase in voluntary donations. With the aid of social media and tapping into persons’ altruistic nature, we have been able to keep a steady flow of blood coming into the bank. We’re now seeing persons excited to come back for their three-monthly donations,” said Dr Levy.

To donate blood or learn more about the National Blood Transfusion Service, call (876) 630-1984. You may also visit nbts.gov.jm or @1bloodbankja on Twitter and Instagram. Have a good story you’d like to share? Email us at goodheart@gleanerjm.com.

jamila.litchmore@gleanerjm.com