Hitting the Road to Donate (Part One)

January 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

Thanks to Steve Pogge for telling us about his mission to donate at all 11 of our donor centers in Western Washington! That’s dedication.

People do different things with their free time. I tend to be a little different than most in this regard. Having just entered my second half century of life, I decided it was about time to start taking some of the less traveled roads that I had bypassed earlier in my life. One of these roads is volunteering and community service. Which led me to Puget Sound Blood Center. It not only became a passion of mine but I found I enjoyed both volunteering and donating.

I became friends with many of the staff and volunteers at the Olympia center, where most of my donations have been made. However, I had a curiosity about the other centers around Western Washington. Did they look the same? Were the people as friendly and pleasant in Bellingham as they were in Vancouver? Which center had the best needle pokers? How did the others compare to my home center in Olympia?

I decided to embark on a one man quest to find out. I obtained a list of centers and decided to visit all eleven in the course of a year. Seeing that many were several hours away, I decided to also be environmentally sound and try and get to each center without the use of my automobile. I came up with several options on how to do this but I was not sure all were feasible or even possible. I like to think of myself as a friend of the earth but in reality I drive my car about 90% of the time so this was also going to be a learning experience in mass transit and learning how to get to places out of the physical area that I knew. I came up with a list of possible combinations of transport and decided to try to implement all, at least once, in my quest. Here was my list: city bus, Amtrak, bicycle, car pool, walking, Grey hound bus, hitchhiking, electric or hybrid car, commuter train, roller blades, and scooter. Many suggested I give up hitchhiking, and I didn’t even know anyone with an electric car but I did have plenty of other options and I set off a year ago to achieve my goal.

How I Met a Real-Life Vampire: A Volunteer’s Experience

December 21, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Thanks to Eric Morton for sharing this post. An aspiring writing and dedicated volunteer, Eric has been registering donors at the Central Seattle Donor Center for more than a year.

Okay, technically they aren’t vampires, they’re phlebotomists. But either way, they’re more than happy to take your blood.

I’m referring, of course, to those folks at the Puget Sound Blood Center that poke you in the arm when you stop by to donate blood. And whatever you want to call them, they’re fun and friendly folks. In fact, I’ll make a more general statement. All of the staff at the Puget Sound Blood Center are fun and friendly folks. So, too, are the volunteers. (Though I may be a bit biased in holding that last opinion.

I mention this because it is one of the reasons that volunteering at the Puget Sound Blood Center is so rewarding. You find yourself surrounded by a bunch of great people. Add to that a volunteer coordinator who bends over backwards to accommodate your schedule. And, of course, all of the other amazing volunteers whose paths you may cross. It all adds up to a very rewarding conclusion: as a volunteer, you will find that you are always appreciated.

If you have never volunteered before, but are considering it, here is something else to bear in mind. Things like work and school are often lousy because you have to be there. In contrast, volunteers are only doing volunteer work because they choose to be there. Surprisingly, this small distinction makes a world of difference. There is something particularly rewarding about taking on a task not because you have to, but because you want to. Especially when that task is one that ultimately helps save lives.

Plus, you get to tell all your friends that you hang out with vampires. And mean it.

There are many opportunities to volunteer at Puget Sound Blood Center. 

Joshua Wong: Double Red Cell Hero

December 1, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Joshua Wong, an enthusiastic supporter of blood donation, recently made his first donation of double red cells. Double red cell donation is an apheresis donation in which two units red blood cells are collected, and the plasma and platelet portions of the blood are returned. This double donation can be crucial to the survival of patients receiving numerous transfusions.

Eligible donors can give double red cells every 16 weeks or 112 days, and the entire appointment takes 85 minutes. Donors must be of certain blood types and meet special height and weight requirements. To learn more, visit the Double Red Cell Program page or call 1-800-398-7888.

By donating, Joshua also made a valuable contribution to the Asian American community in Western Washington. Less than one percent of donors in Western Washington belong to ethnic minorities. While most patients can receive blood from donors of the same blood type, some need closely matched blood, which is most likely to come from donors of the same ethnicity. To learn more, visit the Perfect Match Program page.

Thank You, Joshua!

How I Became a Volunteer for Puget Sound Blood Center

November 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Thanks to Shyam for telling his story:

“Volunteers needed,” flashed a bold red poster from the Puget Sound Blood Center, as I was picking up my mail after work, in my apartment complex. About a year and a half into my first real job after college, I had not done a single volunteering job. Before that, I somehow managed to find time in between my busy grad school classes and assignments to volunteer in some community based organizations in and around my University. I had been looking to find a volunteer group ever since I came to Seattle, but never made a real effort to find one. I had become too busy caught up with work.

A voice inside me prompted me to take the volunteer contact info from the poster. I did and as I was walking into the elevator, I realized that my good intentions to volunteer would not mean anything to the community if I didn’t actually do anything about it. I decided to stop procrastinating and to call the volunteer co-coordinators. I actually dialed her number right after I got off the elevator. I did not want to put this off any longer. I could not take the guilt of being selfish, and not giving back anything to the community. So Kathie (the then volunteer co-coordinators in the Central Seattle branch) called me back the next day to schedule my first session.

On my first day, Kathie greeted me and gave me a quick introduction about the Blood Center. Then, she introduced me to Kristi (another volunteer), who taught me the different steps involved in registering donors. It was simple, and it took me about 10 minutes before I could register my first donor. I was thrilled with my first registration. I could really feel a spark rekindle within me doing something like this again. It was a matter of days before I got my permanent shift (second and fourth Thursdays of the month). I thought, I could definitely handle six hours a month of volunteering, in spite of an active social and professional life. It is a lot easier than I thought and I look forward to my volunteering shifts.

I really enjoy being a “donor registration volunteer” at Puget Sound Blood Center. It gives me a chance to meet and work with some wonderful people, who really care about the noble mission of “saving lives.” These little acts of kindness can go a long way in helping someone, be it Jessica who is fighting blood cancer or Chris who just had a life threatening accident. I get to be a part of something extra ordinary that really makes a difference to this the world. I had pledged some gifts in the past year but volunteering again made me realize that monetary gifts can only go so far and can never match the time and effort that you give to the community. Volunteering gives me time off from work and helps focus my energies on something entirely different. And the feeling that you one gets at the end of the day is priceless. So what are you waiting for….give us a call. You have no idea how many lives you could help save.

You too can become a volunteer. There many ways to help the Blood Center and the community.

Jessica: A Survivor Twice, Thanks to Blood & Bone Marrow Donation

September 23, 2009 at 8:53 am

Thanks to Jessica for her generosity in sharing her story through this guest blog post. Jessica survived Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Aplastic Anemia thanks to a bone marrow transplant, a peripheral blood stem cell transplant, and donations of blood and platelets. It took the generosity of many, many donors to save her life.

Cancer treatment isn’t easy. It isn’t fun, or simple, or a walk in the park. My acceptance of the situation, my adaptability (my naiveté), my faith that when my parents told me “everything would be OK” it would be—that’s what got me through the years of treatment. Bravery had nothing to do with it.

My brother, Daniel, was my bone marrow donor. I’ve heard stories of family members who were too scared, too preoccupied with their own lives and their own fears to donate their bone marrow to a dying relative. I don’t believe the thought ever occurred to my brother. When Daniel woke up from anesthesia the day he donated his marrow to me, the first thing he said was, ‘They tell you not to feel responsible, but how can I not?’ and my big, strong, bully of a brother cried.

He had been referring to the possibility of my death. To me, that is bravery.

I was diagnosed with AML- Acute Myeloid Leukemia- in 1998 at age 11. I was an active kid; I was the catcher on a softball team, played handball with my friends at recess, and never fretted over cuts or bruises or splinters. On Memorial Day weekend in 1998 I noticed a small bump, about the size of a pea, in my right cheek. I couldn’t see it, but If I pressed my tongue against the inside of my cheek and a finger on the outside, I could feel it. My mom had never been the kind to “wait and see,” so I had an appointment with the pediatrician the following day.

I was misdiagnosed that day with a blocked salivary duct, given an antibiotic and told to suck on sour candies. My friends were jealous when, the next day at school, I had a Warhead consistently in my mouth.

I was told that when my mom received the call, she collapsed onto her knees, unable to speak.

I had spent the night at a friend’s house that weekend, and the next morning I was swept away without an explanation, told only that I had to see the doctor again.

I received my chemotherapy treatment at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. To be honest, a good deal of that time is a blur to me. I remember beating Super Mario Brothers at least five times, staying up nights, trembling uncontrollably, with my mom while I was on Amphotericin (which doctors nickname “Awful Terrible”), and fine-tuning my love for classic Hollywood films and Mel Brooks. When I wasn’t in the hospital I was traveling there three days a week for blood transfusions. Every time, I would receive at least several bags of red blood and platelets each. The process usually took all day, and if I still had not been given a significant enough boost I would be admitted overnight.

On one such occasion, my platelet level had dropped to a dangerously low level. My skin was unable to keep itself knit together—my gums split open of their own accord, and I could do nothing but lay in a hospital bed with the taste of copper running down my throat, hoping the next transfusion would be enough to heal the wounds my body had given itself.
Hospitals often keep track of what donors have an especially good effect on a patient, and a man who had recently moved to Northern California who had boosted my levels before was called. He flew down to Los Angeles to donate his blood to me again. I’ve never had the chance to thank him.

I’m not sure what led my parents to decide on the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center for my bone marrow transplant, but their decision put me on a path that I had never previously considered.

My mom, grandma, godmother, brother and I moved into three apartments in Capitol Hill in August. I received the last stage of my treatment, and enjoyed the city of Seattle while I was still able and allowed. My favorite thing to do was go to the arcade on the wharf. There was, and still is, a photo booth that takes your picture within the frame of your choosing. I still have a picture of myself, bald and fifty pounds overweight from steroids, within the frame of a newspaper with the title, “Aliens Have Landed!”

I had my bone marrow transplant in September of 1998. The day I was admitted I was instructed to walk two miles everyday, which was approximately nineteen laps around the transplant ward. The first day I lapped every other patient at least three times. A week later, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. In one of the rooms, when the door was open, you could see Mount Rainier through the window. It became my goal each day, to finish each lap in order to catch a glimpse of the beautiful mountain.

I was in the hospital for approximately three weeks. The day I was discharged I walked home to our apartment in Capitol Hill and then made dinner for my mom and I. We moved back home to California in January of 1999, and I resumed the semi-normal life a cancer survivor is destined to have.

In 2001, during my freshman year of high school, I began to have dizzy spells. They were severe enough to put me flat on my back for fear of passing out, waiting for the blood to return to my white face and lips. I was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia, a disease that is often caused by the treatments used for Leukemia.

My doctors first tried to control the disease with medication, and when that didn’t work, plasmapheresis—a process in which blood is removed from the patient, the plasma is separated from the rest of the blood and then discarded, and the remaining blood is then returned to the patient. When plasmapheresis did not seem to help any, my doctors turned to my last resort—a second bone marrow transplant.

My brother came to my rescue yet again. In October of 2002 I received my second bone marrow transplant, this time at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. This time, Daniel donated blood stems cells by PBSC donation (peripheral blood stem cell), instead of from his bone. Donors can use this method about 70 percent of the time.

My second bone marrow transplant was much harder on me–I was in the hospital for several months as opposed to three weeks, and my immune system was so compromised that my mom, who stayed with me every night, had to sleep in a mask and gown.

I was discharged from the hospital when I was no longer dependent on my IV for my medications and fluids. I have been disease-free now for eight years.

I had difficulties after each transplant, including Graft vs. Host Disease, the horrible side effects of the medications used to treat it, and the tentative acceptance of my peers after I had been changed so drastically.

It is a frightening thought, to realize that had my brother not been a match for me, had a donor not been found soon, I would have died from Aplastic Anemia within a few months.

I am so fortunate that my brother was a good candidate to donate his bone marrow to me. Some people aren’t as lucky as I have been–70 percent of people requiring a life-saving bone marrow transplant will not find one from a relative, but from someone unrelated. The demand for blood donations and bone marrow donors is frighteningly high. After my experience, every person in my family as well as several close friends who were eligible have signed up with the National Marrow Donor Registry. Registering is really simple: you must be between the ages of 18 and 60, you just have to fill out a health questionnaire and do a simple cheek swab, and you can sign up at any mobile blood drive or donor center.

As strange as it may sound, it was my experience during my first transplant that ignited my love of Seattle and prompted my move here in February of 2008. I love how eco-minded the people in Seattle are, how conscientious everyone is, and how much effort is put into preserving the city and its population. And I am so grateful to the doctors, nurses, volunteers, and donors who commit themselves to saving the lives of patients like myself.

I can’t donate my blood. I can’t donate my bone marrow. All I can do is share my story, and thank the brave men and women who help to save those patients who do not have a big brother who loves them.

Thank you, and Baruch Hashem.”

Thank you too, Jessica. Thank you for your bravery and for your dedication to educating others.

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