Aging blood donor population is becoming an increasing concern

A usual trip to the mall turned out to be somewhat different for Jen Meyer. It wasn’t long after she had stepped out of her vehicle when she began to feel faint, and at one point reached the point of nearly passing out.

“I’d always had trouble with my hemoglobin” Meyer said.

As explained by the Canadian Blood Services, hemoglobin is the pigment that makes blood red. It is an essential part of the transportation of oxygen from the lungs to the cells of the body. The hemoglobin molecule itself contains iron which comes from diet.

Doctors told her she was basically functioning at a level below where most people physically can. Meyer’s hemoglobin levels had to be adjusted; otherwise organ damage was going to occur. When iron supplements didn’t work, a more drastic measure needed to be taken.

After having a partial hysterectomy because the monthly menstrual cycle was too much strain on her body as the loss of blood significantly decreased her iron levels which in turn affected her hemoglobin levels, Meyer still required two blood transfusions.Jessie Cutforth a nursing student at MRU is a regular blood donor.
Photo by: Donella Swan

“I’d had my hysterectomy and after that I’d had two transfusions and it was like somebody made me a different person,” Meyer said.

Meyer said it was only a couple hours following the transfusion that she really noticed her strength returning. Getting out of the hospital bed and walking around was not the same struggle it had been prior to the transfusion. Meyer felt more energy than she had in years.

According to Casey Defilice, community development co-ordinator for Canadian Blood Services, last year alone 61,690 units of blood were collected and used in Calgary hospitals. This would be approximately 27, 760.5 litres of blood.

The aging donor population is of great concern for Canadian Blood Services because the highest number of blood donations in 2010 were made by 45 to 54-year-olds. If these aging donors were suddenly unable to give blood it could possibly mean life or death for someone according to Lisa Castro, also a community development co-ordinator for Canadian Blood Services.

“We need to recruit 14,000 new donors to meet the blood needs in Alberta alone,” Castro said.

Without new recruitments a shortage of blood available to Alberta hospitals is inevitable, as the current regular donors age and the risk of not being eligible to donate increases.

Programs such as “Blood 101” and “Young Blood for Life” are put in place by Canadian Blood Services in order to recruit a younger donor population.

Laura Lock, a first time donor, waits to be given the needle by Jessica Earl a phlebotomist with Canadian Blood Services.
Photo by: Donella Swan
Mount Royal University, University of Calgary, S.A.I.T, Ambrose College and various high schools across Calgary participate. A mobile blood clinic took place at MRU at the end of September, gathering 110 units of blood. That equates to saving about 330 lives, according to Defilice.

“Young people are great supporters (of Canadian Blood Services), we just simply need more,” said Castro.

Jaime Lawn, a student at MRU who has donated blood before, feels that more people should do it.

“I know there’s a need for it and I would definitely donate again,” said Lawn.

Blood Facts:

Provided by Casey Deflilice of the Canadian Blood Services.

  • 52% of the population will need blood or know someone who does
  • Out of 16, 551, 744 people in Canada only 415, 000 are regular blood donors which means only 1.2% of the population supplies blood to the whole
  • Calgary hospitals need about 750 donations per week to supply patients in need

Lawn felt that for some the fear of needles was enough to deter them from donating but feels for others it’s just the excuse of time.

“It doesn’t take that much time for how much it’s worth,” said Lawn.

The amount of blood needed in a year is based on hospital needs alone. One donation can save up to three people — whether that be a cancer patient, a newborn baby or someone like Meyer, who had health problems and a blood transfusion was a necessity.

It has been just over six years since Meyer had her surgery and blood transfusion.

Her life has been changed since then, she says. Since her energy level has been restored to normal, she is busy helping plan her daughter’s upcoming wedding and is enjoying a little more of an active lifestyle; which, given her previous condition, she could not do.

“I would say thanks (to the blood donor), you gave me back my life,” said Meyer.

The next young donor clinic will be taking place at S.A.I.T, on November 24. For more information go to www.blood.ca.

dswan@cjournal.ca