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  • Anna Welscott

Giving back: donating blood in Mexico

When we made the decision to travel by sailboat, we also made a decision that we wanted to give back to the communities that we visited. If that meant volunteering, buying school supplies, donating clothes, or helping in any other way that presented itself, we would do what we could to help. Well...a situation recently presented itself...

Every morning there is a Cruiser's Net that begins at 8:00am on VHF 22. The net is comprised of other cruisers, like us, that are either passing through or have decided to stay long term, some have been here in La Paz for 20+ years. It has been a great resource for finding out local information; anything from marine vendor recommendations to the local Farmer's Market location, along with other useful information. Recently, a well known captain in the area made an announcement, asking for an urgent need of blood donation for the wife of a well known restaurant employee in the area, who needed surgery. Blood donation in Mexico is very different compared to the US or Canada, as blood is donated to a specific person if surgery is needed. After hearing the request and doing some research, Doug and I went to the restaurant and talked to the employee, to find out more about the situation.

If someone has public health coverage in Mexico, either IMSS or Seguro Popular, and surgery is needed, it is expected that the patient brings their own blood donors prior to the surgery. It is also necessary to procure the surgical supplies and medications needed for the surgery upfront. This may sound easier said than done. When it comes to blood donation in Mexico, the standard is set so high that it is often unattainable to find suitable donors, this in turn makes for long wait times for patients in need. Our restaurant friend already had asked his friends and family to donate, with only a small amount of them meeting the strict criteria. After asking everyone that they knew, they were short one donor and we felt the need to try and help.

We arrived to the local Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) public hospital on the specified date at 7:00am, after fasting for 10 hours and getting a good nights rest. Lines were already forming for various other tests, appointments, and treatments. We were trying to navigate to the Banco de Sangre (Blood Bank) area of the hospital, which was a confusing feat in itself. Once finding the check-in window we gave our IDs along with the name of the patient we were there for. We decided if at any time either of us felt unsafe or conditions didn't seem up to par, we would leave. Everything seemed very clean and sterile throughout the whole process.

After waiting for about an hour, we were called back separately and a vile of blood was taken for a preliminary blood panel. They were checking blood counts, blood type, etc. There was more waiting as the blood panel was being run. If the blood "passes" you move on to the next round. Observing this process, we would say that 1 in 10 people "passed" the blood panel and were able to move onto the interview process. Unfortunately the blood panel is where Doug's donating journey ended as there was one area that was registering low (nothing to worry about, it just didn't met their criteria), so they told him he could try again in two weeks.

I was told that I passed, so I moved on to the interview process. Soon after, I was taken back to donate. The whole process took about 3.5 hours. We would guess that 50 people were there to donate blood that day (or maybe I should say they "tried" to donate), we estimate that only 10 out of the 50 people were accepted as eligible donors. We had no clue how strict the process was here!

Our friend's wife has now received the surgery that she needed and is recovering. We receive pictures and updates, which have been nice. We feel good that we were able to help out in this situation, especially in the form of giving blood. We are not sure if our friend's wife received the donated blood during surgery, but I was able to select the option for my blood to be given to someone else if she did not need it, so either way, we feel that we have done our part.

Once you donate blood, you receive an official certificate saying that you have done so. If Doug or I are ever in a situation that we need blood in Mexico, the certificate covers us, so we do not have to find or bring our own donors. That was a nice added perk to the apple juice and ham & cheese sandwich I received after donating.


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