About half a month ago it was World Blood Donor Day ( [link] )
I started to give blood about 15 years ago. First as a full blood donor, later as a plasma donor.
When I was just a wee little lad, I went along with my mother when she was going to donate. I had cookies, lemonade and soup, and I often got a Red Cross stamp on my arm from the doctor. For me those were some good times, and I never developed a fear for needles. If your mum has a big needle in her arm, and has her blood collected, how can it be a scary thing?
So when people ask me why I donate blood plasma, I can't answer them. To be more precise, I can't answer the "Why". For me that has never been the question. I have more then enough for my own and I have no fear for needles. Yes, I've felt faint a couple of times after a donation, and I've had a few interesting bruises over the year, but those are just minor inconveniences at best. In short, the question for me isn't "why?", but it is "why not?". And since I can't answer that question, I'll keep on donating as long as possible.
When I moved to Delft, I had to go to a different blood bank. After the second plasma donation I was asked if I would like to register as a stem cell (bone marrow) donor. And since I still couldn't answer the why not question, I registered. As a registered donor, some data concerning your HLA-type are entered in in international database. If somewhere on this planet is a patient who has a compatible HLA-type, you are asked if you still want to donate. There are two ways one can donate. The first one is to undergo surgery, where bone marrow is removed from the back of the pelvic bone. The second way is through apheresis. For this second method one has to undergo a treatment which stimulated stem cell growth to such an extent that the surplus ends up in the blood stream itself. That surplus can be filtered out.
About nine months ago I got a phone call. There was a patient somewhere on this planet for whom I was a match, together with ten other people. I was asked if I still wanted to be a donor. I had to report the next day for some extra blood tests. If the test results showed that I was the best match, I would be picked as the donor. So there was a one in ten chance.
A few days later I got a phone call, and I was asked to undergo a thorough medical examination, for at that point I was the best available match. Later I learned that I hadn't been the first choice, but that the person who was the first choice didn't pass the examination.
A few days later I heard that I had passed the examination, and I was asked again whether or not I still would want to be a donor. The preferred means of donation was apheresis. The day before I would start my treatment I was informed that the procedure was to be postponed, because the patient suffered from some medial complications. A few weeks later I learned that donation would no longer be needed, and my status in the database would be reset to available again. The complications had grown worse, and the patient needed extra surgery as well. Chances that the patient would indeed survive were very slim.
During the few weeks before that news I was mentally preparing myself. I somehow felt an emotional connection to my patient, who remains anonymous for me. I had never seen him/ her, but somehow I felt linked. Which in itself has left me puzzled. I was sad for a few days after I heard that news.
But if I were to be asked to report again for a stem cell donation, I would go ahead and report. Simply because I still can't answer the question "Why not?".