Family members from Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin join the
“walking blood bank” onboard the hospital ship Africa Mercy
“Every blood donor is a hero” is the theme for the 2012 World Blood Donor Day on June 14. The humanitarian organization Mercy Ships is taking the day to celebrate the heroic role that numerous blood donors play onboard its hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, which is currently docked in the West African port city of Lomé, Togo.
|Pat, Michael and Ben Digmann|
Mercy Ships provides free surgical, medical and dental care to developing West African nations, along with health and medical training and infrastructure development. Its flagship, the Africa Mercy, is equipped with a state-of-the-art hospital featuring six operating theaters, recovery wards with 78 beds, a CT scanner, an X-ray machine and a laboratory. The ship is staffed by a crew of more than 400 volunteers from over 35 nations, who pay for their own room and board while serving on the Africa Mercy.
Due to space limitations, the ship’s hospital does not maintain a traditional blood bank. Instead, it relies on a “walking blood bank” of pre-screened volunteer donors who are prepared to donate precisely when needed. Since the beginning of the year, more than 200 members of the ship’s all-volunteer crew have signed up for the added commitment to donate their blood to Mercy Ships patients.
Medical Lab Scientist Ben Digmann of Rochester, MN, has donated blood during his current service onboard the Africa Mercy and during his earlier service with Mercy Ships in 2010. Ben is a Laboratory Technologist with the Mayo Clinic Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology in Rochester, MN. His blood type, B+, is in high demand onboard the ship, since it is a common blood type in Africa.
Four-year-old Ellen received Digmann’s donated blood when she underwent facial surgery to remove a tumor on the occipital bone.
“My coworkers in the lab cross-matched me with the patient, as I was the next on the list of our screened donors of that blood type,” says Ben. “Halfway through my lunch break, my coworker Chris Webb found me to tell me that the OR called for a unit of blood. When the OR calls for blood, that’s an immediate need that can’t wait. I got up, gave my half-finished plate to the galley staff so they could wrap it in plastic for me to finish later, and went down to donate.”
Ben’s father Michael and his brother Pat also became blood donors when they recently arrived onboard the Africa Mercy. The two Digmanns were part of a volunteer Mercy Team that completed 10 days of service modifying storage shelves onboard the ship and installing windows in a local church. Michael, who lives in West Bend, WI, and Pat, who lives in Boulder, CO, volunteered to be screened for blood donation. Both men are experienced blood donors, and, like Ben, they have the B+ blood type that is frequently in demand.
When Michael and Pat went to the ward to donate their blood, the other members of their Mercy Team went with them. “The donation process aboard the Africa Mercy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Pat. “It was a party! The team was busy enjoying themselves and providing entertainment during the whole event.”
Michael’s donation was assigned to a patient named Lina, who needed maxillofacial surgery. Due to blood loss during the surgery, Pat’s unit of donated blood was also used.
“I have done over 60 donations in the U.S., and this was by far the best,” says Michael. “I was able to see my unit of blood hanging in the operating room, going into the patient. My son Patrick was able to carry his unit into the O.R. and see it being put to use for the same patient. So my blood, combined with my son's blood, has saved the life of someone in Africa. This is truly amazing. But what is even more amazing is that this type of thing happens all the time on the Africa Mercy.”
For lab technician Ben, the greatest difference between a traditional blood bank and Mercy Ship’s walking blood bank is the personal connection of the donors onboard the Africa Mercy.
“The blood bank here is a community with a common cause,” he says. “If we don’t have enough blood donors to keep surgeries going, all it takes is one announcement over the intercom, and the lab becomes flooded with willing donors. That sense of community extends to the relationships between the crew and the patients. People here are willing to donate because they see the people who need the blood, and they talk to them, and they become friends. Of course you would give your blood to a friend.”
ABOUT WORLD BLOOD DONOR DAYOn 14 June, countries worldwide celebrate World Blood Donor Day with events to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products, and to thank voluntary unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood. The theme of the 2012 World Blood Donor Day campaign, “Every blood donor is a hero” focuses on the idea that every one of us can become a hero by giving blood. While recognizing the silent and unsung heroes who save lives every day through their blood donations, the theme also strongly encourages more people all over the world to donate blood voluntarily and regularly.