Monday, June 13, 2011

Living Blood Bank:

Mercy Ships Celebrates World Blood Donor Day

Garden Valley, Texas, June 10, 2011 – Millions of people around the world owe their lives to individuals they will never meet — people who donate their blood to help others.

But in West Africa on a charity hospital ship operated by Mercy Ships, recipients are given the opportunity to thank the donors who saved their life – face to face.

“We call it a walking blood bank,” says Jonesboro, Georgia, native Claudia Juarez, Senior Lab Technologist on the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. “When crew members arrive, they have the option to become blood donors. If they agree, they are screened and are informed that when the need for blood arises, they could be asked to donate right away.”

Because of a lack of storage space on the tightly-packed ship, blood is not stockpiled to use in emergencies. And because all crew members on the Africa Mercy are volunteers – they have sacrificed to help those in need in West Africa – there is never a shortage of donors when a call goes out.

A month ago, one of the lucky recipients was twenty three-year-old Harding Sesay of Guinea, West Africa. Harding was an active teenager until a boil on his nose began to grow so large that it blocked the vision in his right eye. With no access to a local doctor and no money for medical attention, help seemed impossible. But he received the opportunity of a lifetime when he was able to have the tumor removed on the Africa Mercy in Sierra Leone.

Ward nurse Corina Buth had volunteered to be part of the Africa Mercy’s walking blood bank upon her arrival on the ship. Her pre-donation screening tests were done, and she knew she had been cross-matched for a patient going to surgery. Buth was the nurse on duty to prepare Harding for surgery. She prepped him, walked him into the Operating Room, and witnessed his operation to remove the large facial tumor.

Seeing his massive blood loss during surgery, she wondered if she would be needed to donate blood for him. To her surprise later that evening, she was called to the Intensive Care Unit, where she learned that Harding did need a blood transfusion. On the spot, with Harding in the bed right next to her, Buth gave a unit of blood. Within minutes of her donation, the blood was being transfused to restore the large amounts lost during the procedure.

The next morning Harding searched for the words to thank Buth, but was unable to articulate his thoughts. His silence didn’t bother her. “His eyes told the whole story. I knew he was thankful,” she said.

So far this year, 209 crew members on the Africa Mercy have signed up to be blood donors. Out of those, 162 have been cross-matched with 95 patients who would potentially need blood for their surgical procedures. A total of 37 units of blood have been donated.

Mercy Ships has carved out their own method in blood donation. Many lives have been saved due to the “walking blood bank.” Such a unique and effective means of donating blood gives the donor a whole new perspective on saving a life. When you can shake the patient’s hand after a transfusion of your blood has saved his or her life . . . it is a priceless moment.

Harding finds it hard to believe how dramatically his life has changed. “For so many years I suffered,” he said, referring to the seven years he hid from society. “Now, I am happy, and I’m full of joy. Thanks to God for what Mercy Ships has done for me.”

Photos by Debra Bell, Tom Bradley and Geke Rustenbrug

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