The Floating Blood Bank That “Takes All Types”
Millions of people around the world owe their lives to individuals they will never meet — people who donate their blood to help others. But volunteer crew members onboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, work just minutes away from the patients who receive their “gift of life” every day in West Africa.
Blood donor, Nurse Danita Gilbert, from Peterborough, Ontario recently returned from Douala, Cameroon on June 2nd where she was part of a crew who not only gave their time and skills, but also their blood to help save lives.
“It is very strange giving blood one day, then taking care of the patient who received it the next. Seeing my name in their chart, on their transfusion form, it felt very odd and so opposite of how very anonymously things are done here in Canada. The patient never knew about it. I knew, though, that I was not just caring for this person, but had had a much more direct impact on their outcome,” Danita tells us.
Danita gave blood during her time onboard the hospital ship to patients like 35-year-old Djenabou, from Douala, Cameroon who needed extra for life-saving surgery to remove a huge tumour from her neck.
Djenabou’s goiter began as a small lump on her neck and slowly progressed to a large mass constricting her airways. For 18 years it grew, making breathing continuously difficult and causing regular bouts of painful coughing. When Djenabou discovered Mercy Ships, her life changed drastically. Thanks to the ship’s walking blood bank, and four blood donors, Djenabou’s free surgery was a success.
The blood bank onboard is not stored in a refrigerator in neatly labeled packages for days or weeks. Instead, the 400-person volunteer crew sign up to give blood on demand to help patients being treated in one of the five state-of-the-art operating rooms onboard the floating hospital that sails to a different West African port every year. The laboratory onboard compares the patient blood samples, which are taken and tested upon admission, with the potential crew donors. Crew members are contacted as needed and can be asked at any time day or night to give a pint. Often, the donation, still warm, is walked straight over to the patient.
“All of the crew members, not just the blood donors, not just the surgeons, not just the nurses, but the engineers, the cooks, the chaplains, the HR team…everyone contributes to the moment a patient sees themselves once their bandages are removed,” Danita says of the life-changing moment each patient experiences after surgery.
With the help of Mercy Ships’ floating blood bank, the medical crew onboard the Africa Mercy impacted more than 35,000 people through the hospital ship’s services during its 10-month stay in Cameroon!
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