Wilbert Blake’s family knows all about the importance of donating blood through Canadian Blood Services.
Which is why a blood donor rally in his name is being held Oct. 1 in his hometown of Grand Falls-Windsor.
“To us, it’s not only an honour to have it for our dad, but there are so many other cancer patients out there that are probably going down the same road,” said Sheila Bingle, Blake’s daughter, “and we look at it as an opportunity to get people to donate to support their family and friends that are probably going down the same road, or will go down the same road.”
Her brother, Shawn Blake, is a dedicated blood donor who celebrated his 100th donation in February 2010.
Though he couldn’t donate himself, Wilbert was at the celebration with his son.
“The night that Shawn had his party, Dad went in there and stayed with him the whole time,” Bingle said. “He was a big support for Shawn.”
Shawn began donating blood in high school, as soon as he was of age.
“Shawn’s opinion of this is he didn’t realize … at that time, the impact that it would have on his own family,” Bingle said.
“You don’t think about that when you actually donate. He said, ‘I find that it’s a great privilege to be able to do it knowing that I am saving people’s lives, but when it comes to your own family, then you realize how much it is needed, it’s just a whole different ball game.’”
The first time it hit home for the family was five years ago when Bingle gave birth to her little girl, Zoey.
“I hemorrhaged and I had to have a blood transfusion,” Bingle said.
“She is the only grandchild of my father, so she was a pretty important part of his life, too.”
Early in 2011, Wilbert began feeling tired.
“Dad has always been a fairly healthy man,” Bingle said, adding the only exception was his heart surgery six years ago.
At the beginning of February, Wilbert had a cold and his doctor thought he might have bronchitis, so he sent him for blood work.
“When the blood work came back, everything was rock-bottom — blood cells, white cells, everything was rock-bottom,” Bingle said. “So, of course, we all panicked.”
Wilbert was sent to a specialist and had a bone marrow test.
“A few weeks later, his blood dropped so low one day that he couldn’t even function,” Bingle said. “His mobility, he was confused, he didn’t know where he was. It was unbelievable how fast that could happen.”
It was then, back in February, that the diagnosis of cancer was determined.
“He was like that for about eight days and as they gave him blood and everything started to come back up. He started to come around,” Bingle said.
She said doctors think a lack of oxygen caused his disorientation.
Then Wilbert started to be able to do things for himself and he knew his family again.
In the months that followed, he required 44 blood and platelet transfusions.
“That was the only thing that was really keeping him alive,” Bingle said. “It’s hard to believe how fast things like that can happen.”
On Aug. 1 he died of a brain hemorrhage.
“They think that the platelets went so low that it caused the blood vessels to get weak, and that’s what actually took him,” his daughter said.
His family is glad to be able to help other families who are going through a similar situation.
Bingle will donate blood for the first time on Oct. 1, along with her husband Kurt Bingle, who has donated before.
“My mom, (Joan Blake), is going to be there and she is planning on donating as well. She hasn’t donated before either,” Bingle said.
“We’re trying to get as many of the family there that we can.”
Reasons for giving
Paul Doucet, Canadian Blood Services’ communications specialist for the Atlantic region, said rally clinics, like the one being held Oct. 1 in Grand Falls-Windsor are quite helpful.
“We have been across the country holding rally clinics, and it’s a way for us — especially in times of lower collections, which normally we experience every summer — to get out there in the community and give them a sense of the blood system and why it’s so important to give,” Doucet said.
One of the big reasons is that blood is a perishable product.
“It’s not like you can collect your year’s supply in the first couple of months and you are OK,” Doucet said. “Blood only has a 42-day shelf life, platelets only have a five-day shelf life, so where the need in the hospitals in constant, we have to constantly collect.”
He said that while one in two people are able to donate, and it’s more like one in 60 who actually do.
“We have a wonderfully committed donor community,” he said.
“Those people who do donate, donate regularly and they are very committed. What we would really like to see is more people come in.”
He said blood donation is an easy way for people to give back to their communities.
“It only takes an hour, and people end up feeling really good about it after awhile. People really come to value the process and the fact that they are doing it. They are always donating for the recipients, but I think they also donate for themselves. I think it feels good — they know they’ve helped and, no matter what else is going on in their lives, they know that they have this one good thing that they do on a regular basis to help their neighbours and potentially somebody from the other side of Canada as well.”
All of the units of blood that are donated at the rally blood donor clinic in Grand Falls-Windsor will be donated in Wilbert Blake’s name.
“It’s one way that families can honour their loved ones be they still battling a condition or if they’ve passed on,” Doucet said. “It is a very appropriate way to remember somebody and to honour them by having blood donations made in their name. … I think it’s a really beautiful way to remember Blake, and a really beautiful way for him to continue to contribute and to give back.”