Saturday, September 15, 2012


Years ago, after giving a talk to a group of blood safety laboratory workers, I was approached by one of the women in the audience. She had lingered in the back of the room until everyone else left to return to work. “You have no idea how perfect the timing of your visit is,” she said. “I really – really – needed a reminder of how important my small role with the blood supply is.” With tears in her eyes, she told me how burned out and tired she was, to the point of questioning her career choice. “I have a confession to make,” she continued. “I was going to quit my job today.” She told me that she now realized all she truly needed was to remember why she’d chosen this line of work in the first place; that, and maybe a vacation.

I have a confession of my own to make. It involves one of the first memories I have following the birth of my daughter. It was about two weeks into my post-partum nightmare in the intensive care unit, and I awoke to a man I didn’t recognize thumping his finger on my distended belly. That man was Bob Osorio, the head of the hospital’s liver transplant program, who – despite my lack of recognition – had been managing my medical care for about 10 days at that point.

When Dr. Osorio saw that I’d opened my eyes, he asked me if I knew what had happened to me. I was embarrassed because it felt like I ought to know the answer to his question, but I didn’t so I pretended not to hear him. Interpreting my silence as a no, he told me that I’d had a baby, that there had been complications, that I was very sick, and that I’d been given—and was still receiving—a considerable amount of blood. The minute I heard the word “blood,” my first thought was, “Blood transfusions! I’ll bet I have AIDS now!”

I immediately thought of that article I had read years ago about a boy – was his name Ryan? – who had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion and was then banned from school, his family taunted by people whose fear got the best of them. I remembered another article about him years later, his face gracing the cover of People magazine. He had died. “I’m screwed,” I thought.

Mind you, this happened in the year 2000 – not the mid-80s. Yet I – a relatively smart woman and former blood donor—responded to the news of my blood transfusions not with the gratitude of having my life saved, but with the fear of dying from AIDS. In hindsight, I realize that if I’d been more knowledgeable about all the hard work being done behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the blood supply, perhaps my reaction might have been more appropriate and less driven by my ignorance and fear. Knowing what I know today, I am – understandably – embarrassed by my initial reaction to receiving blood. And knowing what I know today, I am not only grateful for, but in awe of, the advancements in transfusion medicine that are continually being made.

To me, what happens between the time blood leaves a donor and is transfused in a patient is nothing short of a miracle – a technological and scientific miracle. We in the blood banking community are fond of saying “blood donors save lives.” But that’s just half of the story. The fact is, everyone who has a hand in getting that blood – in its safest form – to someone in need saves lives.

A message to that woman who almost left her position in the lab all those years ago: thank you for choosing to stay. Thank you for continuing to not only save lives, but to forever change them. Your work is important. You do make a difference.

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