Rafat Salami, Abuja

Rafat Salami, donating blood at National Blood Transfusion Service NBTS Centre

Flashback: December 29, 1998 at about 5am I slumped! I began to drift in and out of consciousness. This followed several weeks of ill-health aided by wrong diagnosis by doctors and my nonchalant attitude to my health. Thanks to good neighbours, I was rushed from Mararaba to Garki hospital but was turned back at the gates because doctors were on strike. Apparently understanding how dire the situation was, one of the nurses directed us to a nearby hospital, the Abuja Clinic in Area 3, a neighbourhood of Garki, Abuja. I can’t remember how we got there but I recall seeing a lot of people around me and so many anxious movements.

Everyone seemed to be talking at the top of their voices which were largely indiscernible. Somehow I overhead them talking about how much they wanted to resuscitate me; how they needed money and how they needed blood, among many other things they were saying.

I muttered where I had kept N10,000 (I used to keep 10,000 as emergency fund tucked somewhere) in my house. I don’t know much of what happened but then it appeared they set a line for me when they heard I had 10,000 somewhere and someone was going to get it. I later saw my father and my step-mum, at least those two I could recognise.

My father then began the frantic search for blood but all efforts proved abortive. I was told people were scared of donating blood because they didn’t want to test for HIV. Recall that at that time, HIV/AIDS meant a death sentence pronouncement. It was also the Islamic Ramadan fasting period and many people were not disposed to breaking their fast. I was told my father went to a motor park where he brought 8 people whom he promised to pay if their blood type matched mine. I was still hanging in the balance and it was about noon but regrettably, none of them was eligible.

By 4pm, the doctors decided that if I was still alive against all odds, they would take a life saving gamble by conducting the surgery for which they would need at least 3 pints of blood before heading to the theatre, as waiting any further would put my life in grave danger.

Shortly after they decided to scrub, I was stretchered into the operating room at 4pm and brought out at about 7pm after the surgery. I was still alive but clinging to life by the whiskers. While in the theatre, I was told two journalists decided to break their fast and come forward to donate the much needed blood. Bleeding one of them was completed after I was brought out of the theatre and I received the first pint after 7pm. That pint of blood saved my life!!

The second pint came at about midnight and the doctors described my recovery as a miracle. One of them said he thought I would suffer irreversible brain damage even if I survived. This was because of the quantum of blood I had lost and the fact that I underwent a major surgery without blood. I even recalled and repeated some of their conversations while I lay unconscious on the slab. I tell you, they were quite unsavoury comments for which the doctor apologised. The other pints of blood came the following day as I made my way to full recovery. Here I am…alive and healthy. I have wonderful children. I am still an unrelenting practising journalist. All because someone decided to give me a pint of blood.

TODAY(19-02-16) I am laying on a stretcher at the blood bank (National Blood Transfusion Service NBTS) to donate a pint of blood which hopefully will save someone’s life. I have been donating for some time now because I know someone’s life depends on my blood just as mine depended on someone else’s.

Laying down on that bed, a young woman walked in with a food flask in her hands wanting blood. She was promptly attended to or so I thought but she stood. As she paced around, I saw her countenance was disturbed. She began to make appeals. I could hear the desperation and insistence in her voice. She wanted any blood. She looked at me on the bed donating and in my mind I was imagining her wanting to just take the pint and run out of the centre. She left without blood.

I inquired from the lady who attended to her what transpired. She told me the lady wanted blood type A+ but they didn’t have it at that time. She said the lady further requested for any other one but she told her only a doctor could request for any other match. My heart dropped. I don’t know what happened to her patient but today, that lady left without a matching blood. In my imagination, that patient was probably still in hospital battling between life and death. That patient would have been hopeful that by the time she returned she would have had the blood that could guarantee a better chance of living.

I donated my blood hoping that someone would come in to the blood bank and not leave as disappointed as the woman did. Then I got to the office and my dear sister and friend Gloria Essien congratulated me for donating. Then the she wanted to know if she could have access to the blood I just donated because a friend’s mother was in hospital and was in dire need of blood. Gloria told me her friend’s mother has been asked to pay 20,000 for a pint of blood and she will be requiring 2 pints. They were looking for a way to reduce the cost reckoning that if they spent 40,000 on blood, how would they foot other bills? I promptly and confidently referred them to the blood bank hoping that no other person gets there before them.

At the blood bank they would pay just 2,000 for a pint of blood. At least between my friends and I, there were 3 pints on that day.

FUTURE: nearly every day, I am told there is a persistent shortage of safe blood in our nation’s blood banks because healthy Nigerians are refusing to donate blood. I am told that nearly everyone can donate blood except those with HIV/AIDS, TB and HEPATITIS. It takes only a lab test to determine whether you are qualified to donate or not.

Ann Daniel at the Blood bank
Ann Daniel at the Blood bank

My friends and I have done a blood donation drive and campaign which we hope to sustain as often as we can. During the campaigns, some said they could not donate because they were skinny; others said they were scared of injection, some said they drink alcohol so their blood is poisoned with alcohol; some said they were women and did not think they could donate. When I reminded them am also a woman, they said I was taking a risk and even tried to dissuade me; some said they were poor and do not eat well so they don’t think they have enough blood.

These are just some of the reasons people give for their inability to donate blood but everyday, there are accident on our roads; everyday a woman bleeds to death at childbirth; everyday children are sick and in dire need of blood. Imagine one of them is you or yours…?

Imagine your child is sick and in need of blood and the potential donor tells you he/she is scared of injections, ….! Sounds so appalling doesn’t it?

I am alive today and a blood donor because someone voluntarily bled to save my life. His timely blood donation made a difference in my life when it mattered the most.

Do not wait to learn the hard way like I did; You might not be lucky. I am told that when you donate you do not just save a life; you also remain healthier. I hope it is true but if not, I am satisfied with just donating to save someone’s life.

Make a lifelong commitment to BE A BLOOD DONOR TODAY.

Rafat Salami is a News Editor with the Voice of Nigeria and the Secretary of the F.C.T Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)