Sunday July 4, 2021
I wanted to be the first person to donate blood plasma at the new Donor Centre in Orchard Park.
Over the 12 years that my wife Joan had leukemia, she received a plasma transfusion every month. With her white cell counts running wild – they should be about 5, and she hit 350 – she had no immune system left.
So she needed what they called intravenous-immunoglobulin, IV-IG for short. It comes from blood plasma.
Plasma is the clear fluid left after a centrifuge filters out all the solid stuff circulating in your blood stream – red cells, white cells, platelets, etc.
That clear plasma is “fractionated” – if you don’t know what that means, think of an oil refinery separating raw crude into specialized products like gasoline, kerosene, and lubricating oil – to select particular components of the plasma for particular purposes.
In Joan’s case, it meant finding the antibodies that she couldn’t produce for herself. It can take 1,000 donations to get the right mix of antibodies for particular needs.
Twelve years, at 12 transfusions a year, times 1,000 donors, meant that I owed a debt of gratitude to around 144,000 people for keeping my wife alive.
Why didn’t I donate before?
Because until now there was no plasma clinic nearer than Vancouver, a five-hour drive away.
Theoretically, I could have given whole blood, from which plasma could be extracted. But there was a hitch there. I had malaria as a child. After the tainted blood scandals of the 1980s, the possibility of transmitting a lingering malaria parasite blocked me from donating blood.
I wanted to help. But I couldn’t.
But plasma doesn’t include any of the cells that might still be harbouring malaria. So when I heard that Canadian Blood Services was closing their existing whole-blood clinic and opening the interior’s first plasma donation centre, I begged to be the first to donate.
It almost happened.
I was the first potential donor through the doors, the day the new clinic opened. But an unexpected medication conflict meant no go, that day.
I went back a week later. And succeeded.
The new centre is a far cry from the clinics where I first donated blood as a university student. We lay on long rows of lumpy army cots, competing with each other to fill a bag fastest.
What I mostly remember, walking home after donating blood in those early clinics, was how good it made me feel. The sky seemed bluer. The autumn colours on the trees seemed brighter. I had done something worthwhile.
It still feels that way. I’m giving back something that was given freely to my wife.
The new plasma donation system takes a little longer than a regular blood donation. About 90 minutes, to draw blood, separate it, and feed the blood cells back into my arm.
All I lost was some fluid which I can easily replace by drinking lots of water.
With whole blood donations, I would normally have to wait two months before donating again, because my body needs time to create new blood cells. With plasma, theoretically, I can donate every two weeks.
I probably won’t. Just because I’m much older than I used to be, and I don’t recover from anything as fast as I used to.
But I will try to donate every month. If I live another 12 years, that will let me give back the 144 transfusions that my wife Joan received.
Live a little longer
The plasma I donate won’t be used only for IV-IG transfusions. Plasma also contains fibrogen, which helps blood coagulate – crucial for burn victims and hemophiliacs. And albumin, used to treat or prevent shock after serious injuries, surgery, or burns.
And three kinds of globulins. Most importantly, is the gamma variety which boosts immune systems.
Older readers may remember getting gamma-globulin injections before international travel. Now it’s called immunoglobulin.
That’s what my wife received in her 144 transfusions.
At the moment, Canada supplies only one quarter of the plasma we need. The rest has to be imported.
In an effort to provide more of our own supply, Canadian Blood Services has opened plasma clinics in Sudbury, Lethbridge, and now in Kelowna.
Let me urge you -- phone 1-800-236-6283, (1-800-2-DONATE) or go online to blood.ca/donate and make an appointment to donate plasma. It won’t hurt you, and you’ll feel good about doing it.
Then make another appointment, to give again.
I’ve started the process of repaying Joan’s debt. Please join me. Do it for Joan. So that someone else can live a little longer.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week, I turned a lot of my column over to Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, and her denunciation of the willingness of the Canadian government to take seriously the plight of aboriginal people. I’m skipping the letters that sought to blame her.
Sheila Caarey wrote, “Seeing Mumilaaq Qaqqaq tell her story on the news moved me too – to anger. My first thought was that all females know about watching their backs as they walk.
“As an older, white, non-religious female I’m seldom afraid – certainly not for being singled out for my general appearance. But I haven’t walked alone at night since I was in my 20’s (and knew it was risky then). Today I go for daytime walks alone – but keep a close eye on unknown males that I meet in secluded locations. It’s just part of being female.
“The thought of adding being suspected in stores and in my workplace – wherever I go - based on my appearance, of having the concerns of my community being dismissed as unimportant by supposedly equal members of parliament makes me angry. I’m not surprised that Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is leaving that atmosphere. I wish her well in her future fight for change, but -- from my point of white privilege -- I don’t know how I can help her besides writing/signing petitions to the Prime Minister and the other leaders. Or by voting for a party that I think will at least press those in power to behave better. It doesn’t feel like enough.”
We need to really listen to the voices of the Indigenous population and actually act on their requests. The time for empty promises is past.
Mirza Yawar Baig added another example of walking in fear: “My nephew (Indian, born and raised in the US, fair complexion) says, ‘When I am walking in the mall with my white friends from school, the security guards don’t even give us a second look. But when I am in the same mall with my African American friends, at least one guard will shadow us all the time that we are in the mall.’
“Interestingly, the security guards could be black or white. The behavior is the same.”
Two short responses.
Gary Dean: "The words of an MP must be the defining description of the treatment of Canada’s indigenous tragedy.
“Born a ‘white’ Canadian, I am ashamed of both our past and current religious and political forefathers -- and hold hopes that the atrocities inflicted in the past begin the REAL reconciliations that must occur.”
Cliff Boldt: “Wonderful column. And timely, given the discovery of ummarked graves at residential schools.
“Is it really 6 years since the Truth and Reconciliation commission published their findings?”
This is probably the longest letter Bob Rollwagen has sent: “I lead safaris in Kenya. There, I do not walk about in major centres alone. White privilege is seen around the world because of history. It is important to understand history.
“Recently, media has spent much time on mass graves and discoveries. History has the answers -- just no one has read it. Grave yards many knew were there and ignored. There are many more, but in many cases, the individual graves and the life of the person buried has been disrespected and families not treated justly.
“What the Nunuvut MP experienced is what every parent of a racial minority family advises their child to be aware of. A global reality that only education and equality will change. Many hope it will change. It might and we should try but we should not disrespect others if it did not change while we are trying. Debate, recognize any gain, and put another idea out for consideration. Change is slower in a Democracy because everyone has the right to their own idea of equity and right to free speech.
“Many do not understand the economic realities and how they control budgets. No money, no program, or many programs, each with not enough [money] to create change.
“We have many political parties in our Democracy. One has a fundamental principle that small government and lower taxes is the best way forward and the private sector will use their wealth to the benefit of society. Another party believes moderate taxation and a larger government role will create centralized social infrastructures that will improve society and work towards higher education and improved family life. A third has a similar guiding principle but would increase taxes even more for high income earners to improve expectations for more and several other parties are focused more on specific issues.
“[Regardless,] the wealth gap between the top and the rest still widens every year. Minimum wage is not a living wage. Over the last 12 years, billions of dollars that might have been used to develop social infrastructure for all has been lost because of decreases in taxes that only benefited wealthy.
“It takes more than five years to stop, turn around and move forward after 15 years of denial of the issues. I understand the frustration of the MP from Nunavut. She is tired of leaders who spend time on personal attacks and claim to have solutions that are obviously counter to their parties fundamental policy goal of small government and low taxes.”
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