The many reasons blood donors should not be taken for granted

By Mel Cappe

When I was Deputy Minister of the Environment I told my staff I wanted to be taken for granted.

In this role, and my other responsibilities in the Canadian Public Service, I always tried to serve the public and make Canada a better place. But I was happy to be a faceless bureaucrat, out of the limelight—known by my colleagues in government and on the Hill, but not by Canadians at large —to be taken for granted.

But fast forward a few years to today where I serve as Chair of the Board of Canadian Blood Services and that perspective changes.  For Canadian Blood Services to do such a good job that we are taken for granted is not in the Canadian public interest. And for blood donors to contribute the gift of life and to be taken for granted is not a service to the public.

When my father needed blood during open heart surgery, I took for granted that life-saving blood and blood products were there for him.  I didn’t think about how the blood got to him, or where it had come from, all I cared about was his recovery.  I didn’t think about the donors.

Now I have a much better appreciation of how dependent we all are on the generosity and selflessness of blood donors. They are what makes it real.  That is part of the “reason” why Canadian Blood Services recently launched a national campaign to focus on the “reasons” donors donate.

I am constantly reminded at Board meetings, and engagements across the country, about why these donors give of themselves to unknown recipients who receive these life saving products in their times of need. Canada relies entirely on the generosity and commitment of donors to keep the lifeline going. Donors should never be taken for granted.

And so, in honour of donors, this week was proclaimed National Blood Donor Week. Enacted by the Parliament of Canada in 2008, this year marks the 11th anniversary of legislation originally sponsored by Liberal Senator Terry Mercer and supported by Conservative Senator Ethel Cochrane to recognize and celebrate volunteer blood donors from across the country who selflessly help their fellow citizens.  It runs from June 10-16, 2019 and includes World Blood Donor Day on, June 14 which is recognized by the World Health Organization.

Like many Canadians, I assumed that every Canadian is a prospective donor—whether it is for blood, plasma, platelets, organs and tissues, or stem cells.  However, the reality is quite different. Even though most Canadians have good intentions about the act of donating blood, very few donate—in fact although one in two Canadians is eligible to donate, only one in sixty actually does. By raising awareness during this special week, we invite and encourage more people to become regular blood donors.

I had a moment of clarity about just how much donors inspire me when I attended the opening of the new Toronto donor centre at Yonge and Bloor about this time last year.  A cameraman who was shooting the event for a local TV station urged me to go and meet a gentleman who was giving his 130th donation in one of the beds.  I walked over to him, eager to let him know how much we appreciated his gift and that he was a hero. As I was telling him this, he nodded and pointed to a young woman in her twenties donating blood in the bed beside him. He told me, she is one you should be calling a hero—this is her very first donation.

Since then I take time to listen to all the reasons I can about why donors donate, and I take no donors for granted.

And I felt I should write this to remind everyone who serves in government and the public service, that they shouldn’t either.