Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca. This is a regular column in Okanagan Weekend.

Long ago, I read an article about doing a year-end review. It said that if you could look back over the last year and find three good things to celebrate, you’ve had a good year.

As I recall, that had not been a particularly good year. I felt more inclined to focus on all the things that had gone badly.

No need to go into details.

But I took the challenge. I found three good things about the year. And then three more…

Every year since then, I have deliberately and consciously made the effort to list the good things that made the year memorable.

This year, one good thing particularly stands out for me. I became a plasma donor.

Plasma is the clear liquid that floats your blood cells around. More than half of the red stuff you call blood is actually plasma. And it contains a host of proteins that every human body needs to keep functioning.

Those compounds are separated – “fractionated,” technically, sort of the way a refinery fractionates crude oil into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, etc. – for various purposes. Fibrogen helps blood coagulate – crucial for burn victims and hemophiliacs. Albumin helps to reduce shock after serious injuries, surgery, or burns.

Other plasma products treat patients with immune deficiencies, rare blood disorders, cancers, tetanus infections, nervous system and bleeding disorders, kidney and liver diseases, newborns with Rh disease and much more.

For 12 years, every month, my wife Joan received plasma transfusions containing antibodies called immunoglobulins, collected from about 1,000 donors, to reinforce her own leukemia-weakened immune system.

I felt guilty, because we were receiving the benefits of someone else’s generosity, without giving anything back.

I used to give blood regularly, back when blood was collected by the Red Cross. After the tainted blood scandal of the 1990s, Canadian Blood Services was formed with tightened rules to prevent any possibility that blood transfusions could convey, for example, HIV or Hepatitis C.

The new rules also prohibited anyone who had ever had malaria from donating blood. That excluded me. For life.

When Canadian Blood Services changed its Kelowna clinic from whole blood to plasma, I saw a ray of home.

Having had malaria did not bar me from donating plasma. The malaria parasite, if it still exists, is carried only in blood cells, not in plasma.

I signed up. I hoped to be the new clinic’s very first plasma donor. For Joan.

But I got caught in a vicious circle. According to the rules, to qualify as a plasma donor, I had to be a blood donor. But because I had once had malaria, I couldn’t be a blood donor.

Fortunately, I still had a 1980s Red Cross donor card. I got approved.

On June 22, when the Kelowna clinic re-opened, I was the first person through their doors. (The staff all signed a congratulatory plaque, now sitting in my front hall.)

Oops, a medical hitch. I had a heart attack, 10 years ago. It, and my medications for it, raised questions about my fitness as a donor. I got referred to the national medical committee. Which rejected me.

I was angry, I admit. Furious. Partly because I don’t like being rejected. More, I hope, because I resented any institution denying me the right to do something good for my late wife.

It took three months of negotiations to reverse that rejection. And I have to say, in fairness, that I had lots of support from

people within Canadian Blood Services.

The nurse who telephoned me from Ottawa to tell me the good news sounded absolutely ecstatic that approval had come through.

I’ve been donating plasma every two weeks since then.

When you donate whole blood, you have to wait a defined period before you can donate again, to give your body time to manufacture new blood cells. But when you donate plasma, your blood cells aren’t taken. They’re fed back into your body. You don’t have to replace them.

And the plasma you donate is replaced by saline solution. In my case. the whole process takes about 90 minutes. So I can go back frequently.

At the moment, Canada provides only one quarter of the plasma our country needs. The rest has to be imported.

So let me urge you — phone 1-800-236-6283, (1-800-2-DONATE) or go online to blood.ca/donate and make an appointment to donate plasma. It won’t hurt you, and you’ll feel good about doing it.

Make this a good year for someone else, too.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at: rewrite@shaw.ca