GUILDFORD — During his twice-weekly volunteer shifts at the Canadian Blood Services clinic in Surrey, Dave Cowie sees a lot of the same people.
“That’s good,” he said, “but seeing some new faces in here would be good, too.”
Cowie, 74, (PICTURED) is among a few dozen volunteers who help things run smoothly at the clinic, located in a busy strip mall on 101st Avenue in Guildford. The place is a bit hard to find, because the front entrance is hidden from those who drive along 152nd Street. Regardless, the clinic has been a permanent home in Surrey for the agency since its move from Newton in 2012.
(CLICK HERE for map showing clinic location)
On a recent Friday afternoon, a decent number of donors streamed into the clinic to help Canadian Blood Services, or CBS, in its appeal for 200,000 units of blood by July.
“We need about 3,000 blood donations in Surrey to help patients throughout the summer,” David Patterson, director of donor relations for CBS, told the Now.
Many returning and new donors are helping the cause, he said.
“But we still need others to get involved,” Patterson added.
In recent months, the agency has received fewer blood donations due to a number of factors, including new rules to protect the blood supply from the Zika virus. Temporary deferrals caused by out-of-country travel also play havoc with donations, along with cases of the flu and missed appointments.
“Our job is to help residents of every community in Canada understand that the most important gift they have costs nothing to give,” Patterson (PICTURED) said as he gave the Now a tour of the Guildford facility, which is among only a handful of permanent clinics in B.C.
“It’s in them to give, which is why we use that phrase in marketing and things like our Twitter hashtag. It really is a gift people can give.”
Cowie, a 12-year clinic volunteer, has donated blood an impressive 236 times since 1975 – approximately once every eight weeks, in keeping with CBS rules.
“My first donation, I’d just graduated from university,” Cowie recalled. “My first day on the job, my boss said, ‘We’re going across the street and we’re all donating blood.’ I wasn’t going to say no, and that’s what got it all started for me.”
Today, Cowie hands out cookies and juice to people like Paulina Angeles, among a group of Guildford Park Secondary students who have given blood. In Grade 12, they meet the 17-or-older age requirements to donate.
“Last year we had a competition between teachers and students to see who could donate the most,” Angeles said as blood flowed from her right arm.
“I like helping someone else who might need it,” she added.
“Why not, right?”
Close to 6,000 Surrey residents donated blood at least once over the past 12 months, at both the permanent clinic in Guildford and at mobile ones across the city, Patterson said. “So that’s where we need to do a better job, because there are a half-million people living in Surrey.”
‘HONOURING OUR LIFEBLOOD’ EVENT HELD IN SURREY
Some of the most dedicated local donors gathered at Surrey Golf Club on May 18 for “Honouring Our Lifeblood,” an annual CBS event that recognizes those who have achieved significant milestones in blood, platelets and plasma donations.
“I know that donations from people like you definitely saved my life,” Jay Lutz, the event’s guest speaker, told the crowd of close to 100 donors and volunteers.
In 2015, Lutz was set to begin classes at Trinity Western University when told he had a form of leukemia that required a stem-cell transplant and, along with it, many blood transfusions.
(PICTURED: Jay Lutz, left, with Jack Dlugan)
“It’s amazing to think that someone in this room may have donated blood that helped me live, it blows me away,” Lutz told the Now after the ceremonies.
“I hadn’t considered donating blood before my illness, which of course won’t allow me to donate blood in my lifetime now, so I wish I had donated before this. I certainly encourage others to donate.”
The night’s honourees included Theresa Libster, a South Surrey resident who began donating blood in the early 1970s and has now reached the 200-donation milestone.
“I’d be way up in the number if I started when I was younger, but I hate needles,” she related.
“My father had cancer, so that’s what got me started donating. As long as I was eligible, I’ve been there, even when I drove from Cloverdale to Vancouver. Now, I go to the Guildford clinic every 56 days (the minimum wait time between donations, according to CBS rules). It’s on my calendar, and they do send a reminder.… I think I’ve missed about five (appointments) over the years.”
Likewise, longtime volunteer Jack Dlugan has been donating blood since the mid-1970s, but along the way switched to donating platelets, which help clot blood. Doing so, he is allowed to donate more frequently – every two weeks – and Dlugan has followed that schedule to reach 500 lifetime donations.
“I’ve told people a number of times that if I can give someone another day to live, then that’s worth my time,” Dlugan told the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation.
“The time you spend in the chair is nothing compared to the time someone (who is sick) has to spend in therapy,” he continued. “To help them see tomorrow is worth it to me.”
Dlugan talked about the time he received a Christmas card in the mail.
“In small handwriting, the person thanked me for donating because it helped people with hemophilia. I’m getting emotional thinking about it right now, because nothing meant more to me, for a long time, than that little thank-you card.”
IT’S NATIONAL BLOOD DONOR WEEK
National Blood Donor Week runs from June 13 to 18, and Canadian Blood Services, a publicly funded organization, is thanking its 420,000 donors.
In an effort to attract additional donors, the Surrey clinic recently changed its hours of operation on Fridays from 1 to 7 p.m., to align with other midweek days. On Saturdays, the clinic remains open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“The more we can fill up the appointment spots we have, the more we can continue to validate opening more hours, more days,” Patterson said.
“It also costs us money to be mobile, to set up in places like Cloverdale and Chilliwack and Mission. So it makes sense that the more volume we can drive here (to the permanent clinic), the more efficient we’ll be from a taxpayer perspective as well.”
Looking ahead, renovations to the Surrey clinic this summer will move it from a paper-based system to digital. Also on the tech front, CBS last year launched an app called Give Blood that allows donors to book appointments; they can also do so on its website, Blood.ca, where blood-donation requirements and eligibility rules are also found. The list of possible deal-breakers includes tattoos, dental work, sexual history, travel to certain areas of the world, recent illness and more.
‘WE ASK PEOPLE TO BE TRUTHFUL’
Due to the rules, one in six people who visit a CBS clinic is deferred, or turned away, either temporarily or forever.
“It’s all about producing quality blood for patients, so we have to be serious about our checks,” Patterson said. “Some of it is based on honesty, the questionnaire. But with every unit (donated), a few extra vials are taken and those go to our testing labs, and that blood is quarantined until testing is done. We ask people to be truthful, because it could be their mom, their dad, their friend getting that blood.”
In Canada, one in two people is eligible to donate blood but just one in 60 actually do, according to Patterson.
Most sought by the agency are people in the 25-to-39 age range.
“They’re the ones we tend to lose the most,” Patterson said. “Our best donors are in their 50s – they’re the ones whose lives have slowed down a bit, their kids are older, they have more time on their hands.… We get the younger donors, too, but then they get married, have kids and get busy with them, then they forgot to donate, and we lose those people for awhile. And around age 40 or so, they remember they gave blood and they come back to us.”
Cowie has seen every type of person walk through the doors.
“Our primary focus is on the donors, to make sure they’re feeling well and don’t have a re-bleed,” he said.
“The cookies and juice, that’s to make sure their sugars are up before they leave.”
Of course, most people tend to like that part the best.