For the life of a creature is in the blood – Leviticus 17:11
There is life in the blood – this verse took on new meaning to me when I became a lab tech and started to work in blood bank. There are many things that have to function properly to keep you alive but one of the most basic is your need for blood.
The little complex cells carry oxygen to every inch of your body – every organ, every tissue – and nothing will work properly if there is no blood. Luckily for us, God designed our bodies to be able to receive and use blood from another person. All a patient must do is consent and let the army of blood donors take care of them.
With that in mind, this is the story of Sambany and his walking blood bank.
Sambany is a name I first came across when his CBC (complete blood count: measures your red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin and hematocrit along with some other things) came into the lab from screening and admissions down on the dock. Sambany’s hemoglobin was 3.8 g/dl. Just as a point of reverence a normal hemoglobin is 12-16 g/dl and is a measurement of the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood.
3.8 is by far the lowest “walking hemoglobin” I have ever seen. By that I mean this patient was not brought in by ambulance bleeding out in the emergency department. He walked (or was carried/driven) to the ship. He walked up the gangway and walked down 2 decks of stairs for his CT and admission into the ward. When I see a number like that I wonder how it is possible. At home I would question contamination from an IV line since surely this man was not standing upright with a third less hemoglobin than normal.
Without knowing anything else about this man or why he was coming to the ship I asked my techs to get a quick blood type on him just to see what we were dealing with. Luckily he is an A positive – a blood type that is very common. We reported the hemoglobin back down to the dock and found out if the doctor was planning on transfusing any blood and if so how much.
Sure enough, three units of blood were ordered for Sambany. By this point I found out that this patient had been traveling for three days with a tumor twice the size of his head which he had been living with for 19 years. The next step for us in the lab was to see how many units of Apos blood were collected and banked, how many donors were already tested and ready to collect and how many donors had volunteered.
Here on the Africa Mercy all of the blood for the surgeries is donated by crew members and it is part of my job to manage this unique blood bank. At home when I realize I am going to need more blood for a patient or a particular surgery I call local hospitals to see if they can spare any or call the Red Cross and have them express deliver the exact amount of units to the hospital. Here when I need blood I go up to the café or dining room or pool or into the hospital and start tracking down my donors. “Has anybody seen ________, I need his blood?”
Over that night and the following few days 5 units of blood were given which raised Sambany’s hemoglobin to 8.9 g/dl. Once surgery was scheduled we started planning for how many donors we would need.
Initially we were asked to crossmatch 8 units of blood – some fresh (donated the day of surgery) and some banked. I started lining up donors and setting up appointments for them to come in the day of surgery beginning at 0830 in the morning. Throughout the day the anesthetist was slowly requesting unit by unit. The surgery was going well and despite being a vascular tumor the bleeding was under control. As the surgery continued we waited patiently for the tumor to be out.
After dinner things started to pick up. We had arranged for two more donors to come in and donate more as a precaution overnight but those units quickly were brought to the OR as well and they asked for two more. At this point most of my donors who had been “on-call” during the day had scattered and I started finding anyone on the ship I knew was an Apos. Luckily we have an early curfew and everybody has to be back onboard by 9pm. I found a few more donors however these units were quickly picked up by the anesthetist and brought into the OR. It was almost 10 o’clock at night.
Rachel, the maxillofacial team leader, who was also waiting for Sambany to be out of surgery so she could admit him back to the ward walked past the blood drawing room. I looked at her and said “Rach, you’re Apos, can we take your blood too?” She enthusiastically agreed and as we were collecting her unit the anesthetist came for one more unit and to inform us the tumor was out. After Rachel the last unit I drew was from Kirstie, our hospital director, who I called in her cabin to come down at 1030pm to donate her blood.
Over the course of that day Sambany received 11 units of blood in the OR – 8 fresh, 3 banked. He received another unit the next morning to bring his total from time of admission to 17 units of blood all donated by our amazing crew members. These 17 units came from crew from six different countries (US, Canada, UK, Australia, Norway and Malaysia) working in departments on the ship ranging from hospital to hospitality, sales to security and things in between.
After the 7.46kg (16.45lb) tumor was out and we were finishing up in the lab I was thanking Rachel for donating when she looked at me and said, “Thank you. You guys are the ones who kept him alive.” While this is possibly the nicest thing that has ever been said from a nurse to a lab tech and I appreciate it more deeply than she understands it is the amazing crew who kept Sambany alive. Without their blood he would have died.
The life of a creature is in the blood. While this verse is talking about sacrifice, atonement and foreshadowing Christ’s own blood given as a sacrifice for all of our sins, the fact remains the same – the life is in the blood.
Thank you to the army of blood donors who helped keep this patient and all our patients alive and who make these life changing surgeries possible.