Blood Relations -September 6, 2001
I don't generally like bleeding. Among other things, Eileen gets upset when I stain the white canvas on our boat. But earlier this summer I joined 27 other members of the Trinidad boating community to donate a pint of my best for the biannual blood drive organized by the Yacht Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago (YSATT). It didn't hurt, my blood may help save a life (maybe my own!), and I got a glass of fruit punch in exchange. All in all, a pretty good deal.
The YSATT blood drive responds to Trinidad's chronic blood shortage. According to blood bank officials, Trinidad could use 45,000 units of blood a year. Instead, only 15,000 units are donated. As a result, elective surgery is routinely delayed and crises occur in hospital emergency rooms.
The blood drive is a good example of how visiting cruisers have worked together with local Trinis in addressing a problem affecting both groups. It was largely due to the efforts of an American cruiser and a local businessman that the first blood drive was mounted in 1997. Initially an annual event, the blood drive is now held twice a year.
The YSATT blood drive is part of the Trinidad blood bank's "registered voluntary blood donor" program. Visiting cruisers as well as workers in the local boating industry are encouraged to donate blood at a mobile clinic temporarily located at one of the large marinas. Each unit donated during the drive is credited to the boating community. All cruisers and boat services workers - regardless of whether they themselves donated blood - are eligible to draw upon the "balance" YSATT has in the bank.
Because of the severe shortage, officials told me that the blood I donated would probably be used within hours of it being tested back at the central lab. Recipients who are not part of the registered donor program are expected to replace the units they use with subsequent donations by themselves, friends or family. Boating community members, due to the YSATT blood drive, are already covered.
Since the first YSATT blood drive four years ago, 40 "withdrawals" have been made. Swedish cruiser Bo Altheden of s/v "Lorna" is a recent beneficiary. This past spring, Bo received life-threatening wounds during a pirate attack off the coast of Venezuela. He required two operations and six units of blood. Also within the past few months, a couple of workers at two of the local boating facilities each received three units of blood for required surgery.
For me, donating blood is an exercise in "enlightened self-interest". Someone, probably a Trini, immediately benefited from my donation. In turn, I'll be in a position to receive blood promptly in the future if I need it. I made some new friends among the staff at the clinic and - to top it all off - the fruit punch tasted pretty good!