What you should know about stem cell and blood donations
SunMin Park first realized how urgent the need for blood and stem cell donations were in Canada during her immunology class with Dr. Jillian Rourke, a Mt. A biochemistry professor. After reaching out to Erin Yaung, a fellow student, the two biology majors joined forces and created MtA Gives Blood, a club dedicated to saving lives and educating students along the way. In the words of third-year Honours student Park: “All it took was 10-11 minutes for me to save 3 lives at such a small cost, and I thought we could help save even more people by educating and encouraging others on campus to step up and roll their sleeves up.”
In the coming weeks, MtA Gives Blood is hosting group donation clinics in Moncton, all of which are fully booked. However, wait-listers are encouraged in case a spot opens up. To sign up, all you need to do is sign up for a Donor Account at www.blood.ca with any email. From there you join MtA Gives Blood by searching for the team name or the code MOUN008341.
To donate with MtA Gives Blood, times will appear under the team profile and you can book a donation slot during those specific periods. To donate on your own time, find a clinic and book a time that works with your schedule. To donate for the first time you need a government-issued ID, and you will be screened for any possible health concerns that would make you ineligible for donating. A finger-prick is also a part of the process to test hemoglobin levels.
Wanting to donate but nervous about the process? Don’t worry, Park and Yaung know the feeling. “Donating can definitely be a little bit daunting at first, but it is so worth it and it’s actually something we look forward to every time we go to the clinic,” says Park. Donating takes only 5-12 minutes, and they only take a pint of blood. While this may seem like a lot, you have nine pints left, “plenty to spare!” says Park.
Mira Donaldson, a third year cognitive science student, found the screening questions to be very effective in determining eligibility. As someone with type one diabetes, Donaldson is now eligible to donate thanks to recent changes to eligibility requirements. Although on the day of donation she was deemed ineligible to donate due to low hemoglobin levels, Donaldson looks forward to trying again next time.
Donaldson was surprised by “how enthusiastic every single staff member was. They were all excited for you to be there and very appreciative of people taking time to donate. It was also interesting to hear from other people at the clinic. One person (not a Mt. A student) mentioned it was their 108th time donating!” Donaldson recommends reaching out to the organizers of the club for more information, as it’s such a “quick and easy process.”
Fourth-year international relations major Charlotte Roberts just donated with MtA Gives Blood for the first time. She has donated 20 times during her five years as a donor and describes the process as “super simple.” With a 10-15 minute donation time, Roberts says “it is always fun to chat while you wait and learn a little about the other donors and technicians.” She describes it as “a great experience to donate as part of a group. Erin and Sun-Min did a fantastic job organizing the blood drive.”
MtA Gives Blood was born out of the desire to help save lives and educate people on the importance of donating. When asked about what students need to know about this, Park and Yaung replied, “If we tried to tell you everything, we could take forever!” They did highlight that donations are even more important during the pandemic, with ethnically diverse donors being essential. According to the MtA Gives Blood founders, 2% of stem cell donors are Black, with over 80% being Caucasian. “This exacerbates the health disparities that [are] already disproportionately impacting marginalized groups of people. Having an increasingly diverse donor population that matches the diverse patient population is crucial to strengthen our healthcare system for patients of all backgrounds across Canada”.
One in two Canadians are eligible to donate, but only 1 in 81 actually do. Park and Yaung are “encouraging as many people to give donating blood a try as possible” and hoping to increase awareness of blood and stem cell donation through posting on their Instagram. In Roberts’ words: “I think the club creates a great atmosphere and streamlines the process, making it comfortable for both new and experienced donors. I absolutely recommend getting involved in any way you can with this club! It is a great way to do something small that will make a big difference.”
The club’s Instagram page @mtagivesblood shows the group’s activities, and don’t miss out on the giveaways available! Whether you donate with MtA Gives Blood or on your own time, there are gift baskets and gift cards up for grabs.