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TELEGRAM SAVES LIVES: through plague and snow, the blood must flow

Gordon Skiffington is territory manager of donor relations with Canadian Blood Services in St. John's. Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Gordon Skiffington is territory manager of donor relations with Canadian Blood Services in St. John's. Keith Gosse/The Telegram
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

If you think the juice and cookies they give you when you donate blood is just a token thank you, it’s not.

“We have refreshments afterwards to replenish your fluids and give you a little sugar boost,” says Peter MacDonald, Atlantic director of donor relations for Canadian Blood Services. “We wouldn’t want people skipping the refreshment area. It’s part of the process.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, refreshments are now takeout only.

“At this point, we’re asking the donors to rest for five minutes in the refreshment area and keep their masks on and take their juice and cookies with them on a grab-and-go basis.”

The Wicklow Street location had to undergo some significant changes to keep the blood flowing in the middle of COVID-19 health precautions.

All donations are by appointment only, you have to get a temperature check and answer questions when you first enter, and the furniture has been spaced further apart.

And, of course, everyone has to wear a mask.

“We were wearing masks and asking donors to wear masks before it was mandated for indoor spaces,” MacDonald says.

March scare

Today marks the start of the annual Telegram Saves Lives campaign. For the next week, donors are being asked to give the gift of life as The Telegram highlights the continuing need for blood and blood products.

As with everything else, this has been a crazy year for blood donations.

When pandemic lockdown measures were first announced in March, the situation was looking dire.

“In the middle of March, we definitely saw an increase in the number of cancellations and no-shows, and at that point in time there was a concern,” says MacDonald.

So, the executive put the message out that donations were still needed, and they got help from the prime minister, provincial leaders and health officials across the country.

They were challenged again in May and June because they had to cancel mobile clinics, but the lack of elective surgeries helped tailor demand. Since then, MacDonald says, things have been going smoothly.

“There’s one thing that maybe a lot of people are not aware of, and that’s that blood and blood products are perishable, so our inventory is very organic and is always changing,” he says.

Plasma can be frozen and can last for a year. Red blood cells last for 42 days. But platelets, often used with cancer patients, have only a seven-day shelf life.

Less than four per cent of Canadians donate blood, MacDonald said, while about half are actually eligible.

Even the controversial rules for gay men are changing, albeit slowly.

The original lifetime ban for men who have sex with men (MSM) has been whittled down to a three-month abstinence period in recent years.

“Going to a three-month ban is not the finish line,” MacDonald says. “It’ll go further, and hopefully at some point we’ll be at a point where everybody answers the same questions.”

He said the challenge has been to convince Health Canada that none of the changes have affected safety.

Group effort

Meanwhile the centre relies heavily on group campaigns, and The Telegram’s is no different.

"This is the 10th year for the Telegram Saves Lives blood drive and I want to thank The Telegram for this tremendous support,” says Gord Skiffington, territory manager of donor relations. “Over the last 10 years, in excess of 2,500 units of blood have been collected during Telegram Saves Lives week as a direct result of this partnership.”

Skiffington says 307 donors will be needed during the week of the campaign from Oct. 17-24. As of Wednesday, 117 appointments remained unfilled.

Canadian Blood Services needs to collect 14,000 units of blood and blood products annually in Newfoundland and Labrador.

To book a spot, go online at www.blood.ca or call 1-888-2-DONATE

Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram

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