Andie...

May 13, 2014

It's easy to find reasons for not donating blood: You're too busy. It takes too long. You don't like needles.

But frankly, those excuses don't cut it. Especially after you meet four-year-old Andie Morrison.

"I want to keep my little girl alive," says her mother, Jenn Morrison. "And without regular donors, we would lose her."

 

When she was just 12 weeks old, Andie was diagnosed with Diamond Blackfan Anemia (DBA), a blood disorder arising when an individual's bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells.

DBA is a rare disease, with only about 1,000 cases worldwide and only a few dozen in Canada. And without regular blood transfusions every three or four weeks, the scenario for Andie is as bleak as it gets.

 

"Transfusions are life-saving, essential and chronic (for patients with DBA)," says Dr. Lawrence Jardine, head of pediatric hematology oncology at LHSC's Children's Hospital. "She'll need those (transfusions) for the rest of her life."

 

Of course, Andie isn't the only person - although she might just be the cutest - who needs blood transfusions. According to Canadian Blood Services, at some point in their lives 52% of Canadians will either need to receive blood, or know somebody who does.

But only 3.6% of eligible Canadians donate blood at least once a year.

 

"We're always looking for more donors," says Chris Hardy, community-development co-ordinator with Canadian Blood Services. "We want people to take one hour every few months to give something that can't be made artificially, something that has to be given naturally."

 

As Hardy explains, the need is ongoing: Blood has a shelf life of only about 42 days.

In addition to the need for a constant supply, there's another problem: The average age of a Canadian blood donor is 45. And they're getting older.

 

"As donors age, they often run into deferral issues," says Hardy. "They may be on different medications, or for health reasons they may no longer be able to donate. So we really want younger people to come out and roll up their sleeves."

 

Many potential donors believe their medications make them ineligible to give blood. But Hardy says they're often mistaken.  The need is particularly great during the frantic holiday season, when regular donors are often too busy to donate. But the patients don't get a holiday, and in the London region 4,000 blood donations are needed to meet demands during the month of December.

Still reluctant? Think about Andie.

 

"There's no other form of therapy for this," says her mother. "There's no cure. She's going to need (blood transfusions) for the rest of her life. I need new people to keep coming out . . . so I can keep my little girl alive."

 

Ian Gillespie is the Free Press city columnist.

E-mail ian.gillespie@sunmedia.ca, read Ian's blog, his column or follow Ianatlfpress on Twitter.

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