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Sirens for Life campaign rallies for much-needed Calgary blood donations

Blood is life is a phrase that has a literal meaning for Azad Bilal.

After being struck by an SUV while walking near his house a decade ago, he required more than 100 units of blood to save his life.

“I’m always grateful for Canadian Blood Services for all the help they’ve done, and obviously, all the donors that have donated blood because, without blood, I wouldn’t be here.”

The Sirens for Life 2023 campaign launched on Jan. 3. It’s challenging first responders from police, fire, EMS, the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, and STARS Air Ambulance to see which service can donate the most blood during the month.

“When we respond to emergencies we know firsthand the need and the trauma that can happen—motor vehicle collisions, all sorts of different scenarios—so we want to support that need for blood, and really help amplify that message that Canadian Blood Services needs blood,” said Carol Henke, Public Information Officer for the Calgary Fire Department.

“There are all sorts of people out there who need it, and it can be a matter of life and death for them if that supply is not there.”

Immediate need for blood donations

Currently, there is an immediate need for donors across Canada, including Calgary. At the end of December, the heavy snowfall and winter storms that blasted the country from coast to coast resulted in an approximate 10 per cent reduction in the number of expected donations.

"Weather conditions are presenting significant challenges to our re-distribution opportunities, making national inventory balance a challenge," said Rick Prinzen, Canadian Blood Services’ Chief Supply Chain Officer, on Dec. 27.

Across the nation, inventory measured in days ranges from 19 days for AB+, to just 3 days for B-.

Henke said that the Sirens for Life 2023 challenge is not just limited to service members themselves, but that friends, family, and members of the public wishing to support a particular service can get involved. All that's required is for people to sign up to donate at blood.ca.

"It's a non-emergency way to still support and assist and help people in need," Henke said.

"Everyone knows someone who has suffered some sort of trauma, who needs our hospital care and might need blood or plasma, and it's an ongoing need and we need to support that. It's so easy to do, and really, it's a minimal amount of time."

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, left, and Calgary Emergency Management Agency Deputy Chief Coby Deurr give blood during the Sirens for Life blood donation drive at the Eau Claire Donor Centre in Calgary on Tuesday, January 3, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Easy to give

Mayor Jyoti Gondek joined in the launch of the campaign at the Eau Claire Blood Donation Centre. It was her first time donating blood.

"A lot of people who haven't done it because they didn't know if they could because they've got some history, illness in the family, whatever it might be. But you can go through the website and it gives you a lot of great advice on whether you can or cannot donate blood," the mayor said.

"And if you talk to the folks here, they'll put you at ease. It's nothing to worry about, and it's very much like getting blood work done in the lab."

She urged Calgarians to consider making a donation this month, because "you never know when they're going to need something that you're able to provide."

Tony Pasich, Associate Director of EMS for the Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, was another first-time donor.

He said that the AHS ambulance crews are providing blood to patients every day across the province.

"We see this every day and the need for it, and I'm hopeful all my colleagues will get up there and donate for sure," Pasich said.

"My wife's an ER nurse, so I'm going to make sure she's next."

Calgary Police Service Sgt. Alicia Wilson gives blood during the Sirens for Life blood donation drive at the Eau Claire Donor Centre in Calgary on Tuesday, January 3, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

How to get involved

Calgarians wanting to donate blood, either as part of the Sirens for Life campaign or throughout the rest of the year can visit Canadian Blood Services at blood.ca.

Appointments can be made online through the website. When arriving at the donation centre, donors are guided through the process of giving blood by Canadian Blood Services staff.

The process begins with completing a donor questionnaire, which will then be discussed with the donor by a trained staff member to ensure that the person giving blood is eligible to do so.

If the donor is qualified and medically able, staff will guide them to a donor chair where they will have a sterile needle inserted into the arm. During this process, about 450 ml of blood is collected, and it usually takes between 10 to 15 minutes.

After this, staff will bandage up the location on the arm where the needle was inserted. Donors are then encouraged to stay for another 15 minutes to have a free snack and beverage and rehydrate.