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.

Platelet Donation and Matched Platelet Donations in Western Washington

September 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm

     Recently, many people in Western Washington have asked about platelet donation and matched platelet donations. We explain here why platelets are so important for cancer patients and victims of severe injuries, and how matched platelet donations happen. Eligibility information and donation scheduling resources are here for you as well. Feel free to try the new Facebook scheduling application!

     Thank you for helping to save lives in your community!

Why should I become a platelet donor?
     Every month, hundreds of patients in Western Washington need platelet transfusions to support them through treatments for leukemia, lymphoma, burns, traumatic injuries and other life-threatening conditions. Platelets are small cell fragments in the blood that help control bleeding and allow healing.

Can I direct my platelet donation to a specific patient?
     Most patients can receive unmatched platelet donations. Only about four percent of platelet donations in Western Washington are matched, and the Blood Center contacts donors as soon as they are found to be a match.

What is the best way I can help?
     The best way to help is to become a regular donor of whole blood or platelets. Each platelet donation gives up to 12 times the number of platelets as a single whole blood donation. If you become a platelet match for a patient, Puget Sound Blood Center will contact you right away.

How do I donate platelets?
     During an apheresis donation, blood is drawn from your arm into a machine that separates your platelets from your other blood components. The platelets are collected in a bag, and the remaining blood components are returned to you. The process takes approximately two hours. Another option is to start with whole blood donation (an approximately 10 minute procedure), and then try platelet donation.

Who is Eligible to Donate?
     If you meet the requirements for donating blood, you probably can give platelets. Apheresis donors must:

     -Be at least 18 years old
     -Be in good health
     -Weigh at least 110 pounds
     -Take no aspirin or products containing aspirin 48 hours prior to donation.

If you have a question regarding your eligibility, contact

Call: 800-366-2831, x2543

How can I schedule a donation?
Call: 1-800-398-7888
Visit: Online Appointments
Visit: Puget Sound Blood Center Facebook Application
Visit: Southwest Washington Blood Program Facebook Application

Patients in Western Washington need 900 blood product donations per day. Patients heal and recover thanks to the generosity of donors such as yourself.

Social Media Coordinator
Puget Sound Blood Center

Using social media for marrow registration

June 9, 2009 at 1:04 pm

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