Thank you, Canada
A public health crisis, a blood system reborn
During the 1980s and 1990s, Canada experienced a massive failure in patient safety. Contaminated blood products were transfused to Canadian patients, resulting in the deaths of thousands of patients over a number of years due to HIV and hepatitis C. The crisis culminated in the Krever Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, which made many recommendations for change. In response, governments created Canadian Blood Services: an independent, arm’s length, not-for-profit organization to administer the blood system.
On September 28, 1998, we opened our doors as Canada's national blood operator in all provinces and territories except Quebec, under the leadership of chief executive officer, Lynda Cranston. Watch archived CBC footage from 1997
A return to safety and stability
1999-2000 saw critical accomplishments that improved quality, safety, and security of supply for Canadian patients and laid the ground-work for many more advances.
For donors, recipients, hospitals, and other key stakeholders, it meant getting to know a new blood system designed with patients at its centre. During that year, we issued our first annual Report to Canadians, held our inaugural open board meeting, and began our tradition of hosting annual Honouring Our Lifeblood events to thank donors, volunteers and partners of the blood system.
Associate Director, Epidemiology and Surveillance, Sheila O’Brien, Canadian Blood Services
Responding to public health challenges
Over the years, we have responded to public health challenges ranging from West Nile Virus and SARS, to H1N1 and pandemic planning, and more recently, Zika virus. When new pathogens emerge, we act quickly to protect Canadian patients.
May 2001 saw the launch of nucleic acid testing for HIV. Nucleic acid testing is a highly sensitive method for testing blood. Today, we use it to detect HIV, Hepatitis B and C viruses and West Nile Virus in blood samples from our donors. See our most recent surveillance report for detailed information on blood safety.
The late Constable Bruce Denniston, RCMP officer. Photo courtesy of the Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society
The Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry
Originally managed by the Canadian Red Cross Society, the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry began its mission to find stem cell donors for patients in need in the late 1980s. Early support from the Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society and the RCMP was pivotal to the program's success and a close relationship between Canadian Blood Services and the Society continues today.
In 2007, the registry was renamed the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.
A transformation odyssey begins
Dr. Graham Sher was appointed CEO. Over the years, he has championed a transformation journey to ensure the safety, adequacy and modernization of Canadian Blood Services' systems, programs and services. Graham is a founding member of the Alliance of Blood Operators and is the first international director on the board of the AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks), serving as its president to 2013-2014.
Research and development: planning for the future
Research is all about people: scientists, innovators – well-trained, creative minds.
In 2001, we implemented a ‘hub and spoke model’ of research excellence. Five main research areas, or hubs, were identified as main priorities of Canadian Blood Services: blood-borne infectious diseases (Ottawa); transfusion immunology (Toronto); transfusion clinical trials (Hamilton); cryopreservation for blood and hematopoietic stem cells (Edmonton); and blood product processing, storage and substitutes (Vancouver).
Learn more about how Canadian Blood Services innovates at our R.E.D. blog.
Committed to public involvement
Our commitment to public involvement and transparency is foundational. Since October 2001, the National Liaison Committee has been a forum for Canadians to identify issues and share ideas, opinions and concerns with our board of directors. It was created in response to the board's Task Force on Public Participation as well as Justice Krever's recommendation.
Working together to build the Centre for Blood Research
The Krever Commission called for a renewed emphasis on research excellence in blood and blood transfusion. In response, our own Dr. Dana Devine, along with a group of University of British Columbia (UBC) professors, gathered a team of leading scientists, engineers, social scientists and clinicians to found The Centre for Blood Research, the largest interdisciplinary blood research centre in the world.
With support from academia, government and industry, they have formed partnerships with Canadian Blood Services, UBC, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the province of British Columbia, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and the Canada Foundations for Innovation.
Donating blood for research
As of April 2003, Canadians who could not donate blood for transfusion use gained the opportunity to donate for research purposes at the our Vancouver-based blood for research facility. This clinic provides a major opportunity to further advance Canada’s blood system. The donors at this unique research facility are pioneers, helping Canada to lead transfusion science internationally.
Canadian Blood Services transport driver Laura Langridge received the Living Our Values award in 2016
In October 2003, we began a long tradition of honouring truly outstanding employees through peer-nominated recognition, first with the CEO Award of Excellence, and later with our Living our Values award. From the first award in 2003, to the most recent in 2016, we are privileged to work with so many high quality, committed individuals.
You can learn more about our employees in many of our annual reports, which regularly showcase our exceptional talent.
Ilan (left) and Dave (right) of the Canada Revenue Agency, proudly stand together as Partners for Life champions in Ottawa
Partners for patients
Canadian Blood Services introduced its long-running Partners for Life program, challenging Canadians to give blood as a group, either at work or in their communities.
Donating blood in teams helps build a local and national culture of donation and ensure enough blood for hospital patients across the country. From bikers to bankers, more than 4,000 partner organizations have taken up the challenge.
Find out how they do it—and how your organization can too
In 2013, Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Ryan Hinds (left) and Toronto Argonauts’ Matt Black (right) teamed up in support of stem cell donor registration
You could be the match
Every year, hundreds of Canadians will require a stem cell transplant to combat serious illnesses. More than 75 per cent of them will rely on someone they don’t know to help save their lives.
In 2007, our stem cell donor registry was accredited and renamed the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. It is dedicated to finding healthy and committed volunteer unrelated stem cell donors.
To expand the number of potential donors in our database — and their ethnic diversity — we have built relationships with community leaders across the country.
Mother and blood recipient Stephanie holds her daughter, Bailey, in Ottawa at World Blood Donor Day in 2007
Canada hosts World Blood Donor Day
Hosted by Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, and celebrated in towns and cities across the country, World Blood Donor Day 2007 focused on safe blood for safe motherhood, highlighting the lifesaving role transfusion plays in maternal and perinatal care.
The 2007 celebration saw the first live performance of the inspirational song We Shine as One. The recording featured an ensemble cast thanking blood donors around the world for saving lives.
Later in 2008, Canada would go on to recognize the week in which June 14 falls as National Blood Donor Week.
Listen to the song, We Shine as One, now.
Tree of life
The Canadian Hemophilia Society's Tree of Life initiative commemorates the tainted blood crisis in Canada. In November 2007, ten years after the release of the Krever report, a special tree-planting ceremony took place on the grounds of our head office. The tree still stands today as a symbol of our commitment to the safety and adequacy of Canada's national blood system.
Rob Marshall, blood donor, blood recipient, and Canadian Blood Services employee, pictured with his wife, Sue
Grateful to blood donors
For over 30 years, Rob donated blood, plasma and platelets more than 200 times. In April 2009, he learned first-hand what it felt like to count on the generosity of over 50 complete strangers.
Rob was rushed to hospital with necrotizing fasciitis (commonly known as flesh eating disease). He had six operations on his left leg and received multiple units of albumin, plasma, platelets and whole blood. Without the generous contribution of blood donors, Rob would not have survived.
Go to mystory.blood.ca to read other donor and recipient stories or share your own.
Gurjit (left) with her husband and kidney donor Shak (right). Photo courtesy of BC Transplant
Scaling up: pan-Canadian organ sharing
Sharing donated organs across provincial health systems began in Canada with the Living Donor Paired Exchange (now called the Kidney Paired Donation program). British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta initially took part in a pilot which was successfully scaled up to include all provinces in December of 2010.
Launching this program, as well as the Highly Sensitized Patient Kidney program and the National Organ Waitlist — and then optimizing them to provide a national service for Canadian doctors and patients — is an achievement supported by ongoing partnerships with provincial and territorial organ donation and transplantation organizations across the country.
Innovating at the centre
Since 2012, our Centre for Innovation has been conducting and supporting research in transfusion science and medicine, including cellular therapies and organ and tissue transplantation.
Through a series of funding programs and research collaborations, our staff investigators support a large network of Canadian and international investigators and partners.
The Centre for Innovation also focuses on improving our supply chain and developing and executing product and process development projects.
Dr. Graham Sher (left) honours longtime volunteer, the late Amalia Pempengco (right) with a Schilly Award
We work with over 17,000 fantastic volunteers across the country. The late Amalia Pempengco's story is a shining example of their willingness to help.
Amalia championed blood donation in Winnipeg and within the Filipino community. She was also a long-time member of both our regional and national liaison committees.
Even in the midst of her own cancer journey, she continued her activities. We are truly grateful for her support, and that of so many other volunteers every year.
Continued confidence in a safe, effective system
As part of our commitment to transparency and accountability, board chair Leah Hollins requested an independent performance review of our operations. Overall, the review found our activities to be safe and well run; one that Canadians can continue to have trust and confidence in the blood system.
It recognized several areas of excellence including: hospital satisfaction, safety and supply of products, stakeholder engagement and transparency, and achievement of efficiencies. It also made recommendations for additional improvements.
Generous financial donor makes history
Marshall Eliuk, an entrepreneur in the Peace River area of Alberta, was diagnosed in 1999 with aplastic anemia. He received blood and blood products and was able to beat the disease that almost took his life.
In the spring of 2013, Marshall helped other patients by making a $1.5 million donation to the Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank. This is the largest financial donation Canadian Blood Services has ever received from an individual donor.
Thank you Marshall, for your generous support of patients needing stem cell transplants.
Reaching the summit for a national cord blood bank
About 70 per cent of patients who require a stem cell transplant must look outside of their families for a match and have the best chance of finding it within their own ethnic group. A national, public umbilical cord blood bank improves the chance of finding high-quality cord blood for Canadian patients.
In August 2013, CEO Dr. Graham Sher led 24 colleagues, friends and partners to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, helping to meet the organization's $12.5M fundraising goal.
Going digital for donors
The launch of a new mobile app (Give Blood) has allowed us to connect with even more Canadians through their preferred channels. Now, blood donors can book appointments, search for clinics, and receive reminders on mobile devices or home computers.
In 2016 we took this a step further by sending a thank you text when their blood is shipped out to a hospital patient.
In 2017, together with EY, we introduced a chat bot to engage younger Canadians and promote donation on Facebook Messenger — a world’s first among national blood operators.
Blood recipient Deborah Hunte has battled sickle cell disease all of her life. She has volunteered with Canadian Blood Services since 2002 in an effort to encourage others to donate blood
Drawing on diversity
By reaching out to donors in a wide variety of communities, we can better meet the needs of patients from all walks of life.
For example, sickle cell disease is an inherited red blood cell disorder that often affects people of African descent (approximately 7,000 people in Canada). Treatment involves blood transfusions and drug therapies, but stem cell transplants remain the only cure. Over the years, we have marked Black History Month by urging all Canadians of African and Caribbean heritage to celebrate their unique culture through blood and stem cell donation.
Arnold Dysart (left) pictured with Dr. Peter Nickerson (right), Medical Advisor, Organ Donation and Transplantation Division, Canadian Blood Services. Arnold received his kidney in 2014
New hope for hard-to-match kidney patients
In 2015, we formally launched the Highly Sensitized Kidney Patient (HSP) program in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments and organ donation and transplantation programs.
These hard-to-match patients represent approximately 20 per cent of provincial waitlists, yet receive less than 1% of available organs. By increasing access to a larger donor pool, the HSP program is improving the chances of a kidney transplant for these disadvantaged patients.
As of March 2017, approximately 300 patients received transplants.
Canadian Blood Services employees Michelle Alfieri (right) and Nathaly Barnett (left) both made the decision to donate their babies’ cord blood to Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank
New moms help patients by donating cord blood
Expectant mothers who give birth at participating hospitals can now help build an ethnically diverse stem cell bank in Canada by donating their baby’s cord blood. Five hospital sites in four cities—Ottawa (2 hospital sites), Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver—provide expectant mothers the opportunity to donate to a national public umbilical cord blood bank, increasing the chances of finding a match for patients who need a stem cell transplant.
In September 2016, our cord blood bank delivered its first stem cell unit for transplant to a Canadian hospital.
Canadian Blood Services staff experience hands on learning from Toyota at our Brampton facility
Learning from Toyota
In a unique partnership, Toyota shared its manufacturing know-how with us to help improve the efficiency of the national blood supply chain.
Both organizations worked to improve processes at our production and distribution facility in Brampton, Ontario. By learning how to identify and solve problems using principles of the Toyota Production System, we were able to make essential improvements to shipping and delivery, sorting and processing, labeling and storage, and distribution of blood and blood products.
As of 2017, Toyota Canada and its dealers announced that they will be extending their support for Canadian Blood Services and the Héma-Québec Foundation with a combined annual donation of $300,000
Canadian Blood Services officials table Organ Donation and Transplantation in Canada: System Progress Report 2006–2015
Strengthening Canada's organ system
The Organ Donation and Transplantation in Canada: System Progress Report 2006–2015 examines access to transplants across the country and how transplantation benefits patients and health-care systems.
It finds that while Canadian patients are beginning to see the benefits of inter-provincial collaboration, access to organ transplants still varies across the country. The report was produced in collaboration with national, provincial and territorial partners.
Toward expanded blood donor criteria
In partnership with Héma-Québec, and with financial support from the Government of Canada, we took a big step forward by bringing together international experts for a two-day meeting focused on blood donor criteria for men who have sex with men. The gathering included researchers from various disciplines, representatives from blood systems from around the world, and Health Canada, as well as patient groups receiving blood products, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Since the meeting, a new MSM Research Grant Program has been launched aimed at informing alternative screening approaches for blood or plasma donors while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.
A safety record to be proud of
Since we began managing Canada’s blood system in 1998, there has not been a single recorded instance of blood-borne infection from either hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS.
Celebrating 20 years of safety
For 20 years, Canadian Blood Services has collaborated with partners to ensure Canadians have a safe and trusted blood supply, stem cell network and transplant system. Since 1998, 2.6 million Canadians have made the generous decision to save a life by giving blood, plasma or platelets. To date, more than 5 million patients have been affected by the generosity of those donors and the quality of the blood system.