Surrey students challenge community to save lives

‘Would you be interested in saving someone’s life?’: Volunteering for Canadian Blood Services

When Canadian Blood Services summer students Tony Zhang, Joban Bal and Shakiba Fadaie were introduced during a recent CBS appreciation and information event, I was curious.

Other than summer income, what had prompted these personable, enthusiastic youngsters to apply for this ‘it’s in you to give’ summer job?

Where, when and why is plasma constantly in demand? High-risk moms and babies, seniors, accident victims, major organ transplant recipients and those battling assorted cancers are among those who spring to mind. Chances are a relative, a friend or you yourself know someone whose life depended on these life-saving liquid transfusions.

But how aware of the need are younger donors? I was about to be enlightened, and impressed.

Blood and stem cell donation programs caught 18-year-old Joban Bal’s attention in high school. He started recruiting friends as donors and spearheaded Tamanawis Secondary School’s first blood donor clinic. He also launched the school’s stem cell swabbing campaigns, and is founder of the One Blood For Life Foundation.

“It’s something I am very passionate about,” Bal says. As a Canadian Blood Services Summer Student Recruiter he is challenged to build community networks, recruit donors and educate people in the importance of blood donation.

“The focus is on the community aspect,” he explains. The goal is to build lasting connections which inspire donors to return regularly. Bal talks enthusiastically about research and community initiatives, combined with philanthropy and medicine, impacting scientific advancement and innovation.

To prove his point he explains, “I saw the impact we could have if we worked together. The small organization I began is now recruiting almost a thousand donors and helping many youth to begin giving back … which is truly rewarding to see.”

It is not surprising that he will receive a BC/Yukon Honouring Our Lifeblood Award in Ottawa in September.

When Tony Zhang asks locals “Would you be interested in saving someone’s life?” reactions are mixed, but he goes with the flow. Either way, chances are the question will haunt those who hear it. That’s a reaction this 21-year-old UBC pharmacy student aims to generate.

Zhang, who came to Canada from China at the age of six, knew about the Red Cross, but was unaware of the work done at Canadian Blood Services clinics until he noticed a UBC summer job posting. The idea intrigued him. His only association with blood transfusions was when an aunt had the right blood type to donate plasma to his grandfather who was undergoing surgery in China.

He says his CBS experiences have created an intense awareness in him of what it could be like in walk in other people’s shoes.

Zhang knows that one blood donation can potentially save three lives. I ask him how people react to his challenge to save a life when passing his Canadian Blood Services booth.

“People say, ‘Oh, no! I’m scared of needles!’, he reports. “I tell them that children in hospital endure many needles daily. I think people are just unaware and uneducated about this. They don’t understand why collecting blood and stem cells is so critical.”

How you can help

Surrey clinics frequently need volunteers, so don’t hesitate to apply online if you, or your organization, have some time to spare.

Volunteer Resources Coordinator Susan Spencer tells me that ‘Adopt a Clinic’ is popular with organizations like the Knights of Columbus, which coordinates South Delta and White Rock clinic volunteers. Schools and organizations, like the annual Sikh Nation Blood Donor Clinic each November in Surrey, occasionally host clinics as well.

Registered nurses or phlebotomists (people trained to collect blood) staff mobile clinics. Trained volunteers oversee clinic refreshment areas in three or four-hour shifts. They form an integral part of any clinic by keeping a kindly eye on the occasional donor feeling lightheaded, check band aids on arms, and encourage donors to relax and snack on cookies, coupled with coffee, tea, water or juices.

Other volunteer jobs include staffing booths at malls or speaking at events to educate the public on the work of one the world’s safest blood services.

The Cloverdale clinic is currently looking for volunteers. The next clinic, hosted at the Cloverdale Catholic Parish Centre at 17475 59 Ave, is on Sunday, July 30 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information on volunteering or donating, visit https://blood.ca or call 1-888-236-6283.

The site also offers fast facts about blood. One attracted my attention: it can take up to 50 units of blood to save a car crash victim. That reminded me of the following donor story told me by a retired Coquitlam policeman, a regular donor, during one of my Langley volunteer shifts.

“I’d always thought if I ever needed blood it would be in the line of duty. One day I was working in my garage with a small electric saw. It slipped off the wood I was working on and slashed my arm. Suddenly the walls were covered in blood. Clamping my good hand on the injury I yelled to my wife, and dashed blindly across the road (no thought about traffic) to the Ambulance Station. The blood splashing up as I ran. The guys were just pulling in. They took care of me and rushed me to emerg. They – and all the donated pints of blood I needed – saved my life.”

I rest my case. It’s in you to give.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a retired Black Press managing editor, blood donor and Canadian Blood Services volunteer.