Last week, my teammates, Zev Powell and Catherine Woodiwiss, and I wrote a blog about a project we are working on with the local non-profit We Are Blood. We have spoken with a number of people at all touchpoints involved in making each pop-up mobile blood donation event happen. Setting up, servicing your community, and packing up requires an immense amount of coordination, organization, skill, and commitment on the part of all individuals involved. Impressively, this is done on a daily basis throughout the Central Texas area.
This week, we have taken on the task of breaking down all of the conversations we’ve had into bite-sized pieces in order to begin our team’s next task—to identify themes across the various conversations we’ve had and synthesize potential areas of opportunity.
Here’s a glimpse of the space we will be living in, literally and mentally, over the next few days:
While this is happening, we’d like to leave you with a few of the voices that make the incredible act of donating possible on a daily basis, and a few of the thoughts they’ve left us with.
Jane is a loving grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, and neighbor. She’s been a blood donor for the majority of her adult life. After her recent donation, she told us her origin blood donor story: In college, a friend had insisted that Jane go with to a blood drive that was on their campus. With persisting anxieties, Jane obliged and went along. It was when she was on the drawing table as she was actively donating that her anxieties reappeared. She witnessed a sizeable athlete on the table next to her complete his donation, get off the table, then collapse to the ground. Convinced that she would follow suit, Jane apprehensively completed her donation, hopped off the table, and was positively surprised to find that she is perfectly fine! It was from this day that she realized that this very special process of donating a piece of herself to save a life of someone in her community is very much something she can do; and is so special in part because not everyone can donate. While Jane has donated for a long time, the feelings of anxiety have recently cropped up once again, due to her age. Today, Jane struggles with balancing her identity as a blood donor with the reality that she may not be able to do this much longer. Not being able to give because she might not meet the health requirements as a donor is very much something she thinks about every time she makes plans to go donate again.
Pat is a long-time staff member of the mobile blood donation efforts. He’s worked at every touch point of the process, making mobile blood drives happen, from packing the equipment, unloading, to working directly with community organizers and donors. Naturally, Pat has developed a keen sense of empathy for the donors and staff alike. The staff that makes up We Are Blood’s mobile team, Pat says, are “the backbone of the company. That they’re the ones that are bringing in the blood, they’re the ones that are doing all the work to make sure that we meet our community’s goals. So having that understanding makes me know how to, take care of them a little bit better.” Treating others with care is key in all parts of the process. When speaking about donors visit, whether it is the first or the 100th visit, Pat says it’s an “important interaction when they walk into the room and see the blood drive for the first time. The first interaction with anybody is going to be when somebody greets them. That sometimes will determine their mood for the rest of the day.”
It does not escape him that there are limits outside of We Are Blood’s direct control. Not everyone can give blood, a sentiment echoed by Jane. While Jane spoke about individual physical limitations, Pat brought to our attention the regulative limitation. Prior to 2010, the FDA has placed a permanent deferral on men who have had sex with other men (MSM) who wanted to donate blood. The permanent deferral was revisited as the demands and need for donated blood supplies increased. In 2014, the FDA has updated their policy on MSM. “Based on the evidence now available, FDA has changed its recommendation from the indefinite deferral for MSM to a 12 month blood donor deferral since last MSM contact.”, https://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/QuestionsaboutBlood/ucm108186.htm. While changes are happening, there are still regulatory reason that the size of potential blood donors is limited.
People Just Want to Give a Little Piece Of Themselves.
Throughout our conversations, everyone we spoke to expressed a similar sentiment, from donors to We Are Blood staff members alike.
Joseph, a long time educator says, “It makes you feel elite, almost because not everybody can. I’ll ask students if it’s their first time. ‘How did it go?’ I’ll tell them it’s really cool, and I’m proud of them, and stuff.”
Greta, who works in the tech industry and has been deferred several times says about donating blood, says “I think it’s a good thing to do and it doesn’t cost you anything. There are lots of people who would like to donate and can’t. If I can, I should, because it’s one thing I can do. It’s community—everyone helps in the way they can.”
At the end of the day, a shortage for donor blood supply is a real issue that We Are Blood works tirelessly to address. The cost of not contributing to those needs is the life of a patient, a child, someone about to have surgery, a stranger, a neighbor, or a family member. If the thoughts we’ve shared with you feels very open-ended and full of complex human issues then perfect! This is the space and stage my teammates and I are at as we continue on our journey and work with We Are Blood, and immersing ourselves in these ideas over the coming days. Stay tuned.