I know the team of the Santa Maria Blood Collection Centre well. I have been giving blood here since 2015, when I started working at the FMUL. Nurse Iolanda and assistant Eunice are always here to welcome me with a smile and a good mood. They are like that with every person who comes here.
This month we wanted to speak with Nurse Iolanda to learn more about this Centre and the reason for the shortage of donations in Santa Maria. Therefore, it was urgent to publicize, sensitize and call people so that, without fear, they can come and donate a little of their time and blood.
At the end, we also have testimonials from blood donors and the reasons why they do it.
Tell us a little about your path until you arrived at the Santa Maria Blood Bank.
Nurse Iolanda: When I finished the nursing degree, I went to work at Pulido Valente Hospital, in the ENT Surgery Service, and I was there for a few years. Then I had a problem during the shifts, my shoulder was injured and I had to undergo surgery, because I had a micro tear in the ligament. When I went back to work, I had a percentage of disability, which made it impossible for me to continue in the Service where I was, because it was “heavier”, as we had dependent patients. At the time, I could not perform my duties properly and I was transferred to Santa Maria Hospital Blood Service. It was a proposal made by the Nursing Department and so I came to open the service.
So you helped create this Service, a completely new area for you!
Nurse Iolanda: I have been in this Service since 2013. The unit opened in March 2013 and I came in February. I spent a month at the Day Hospital, at the Haemophilia Unit, and only started this project later. I did the proper training with my colleague and we opened the unit on 18 March. It was a new area, I didn't know it, the only contact I had with blood was when I was transfusing a patient. At the beginning, I was a little scared, because it was a new area and completely different from what I knew as a nurse. But I liked it, I realized that it was a really important area, without blood there is no life. This sounds like a cliché, but it's true. We may have muscles, bones, ligaments and everything else, but without blood nothing else matters. And it's been difficult to make people understand the importance of donating and of blood. And then I also saw a challenge. When I opened this unit with a colleague, we had no donors in the beginning, and we had to make the unit known. I went into the corridors and out into the street to ask people to donate blood. I did that, and at the time we had another assistant, Pedro, who was also doing that job. That's how we started to have more donors.
What other types of outreach did you do?
Nurse Iolanda: We made leaflets to distribute internally, because everything we do is done internally. The Service Director also has easy access to the media and he himself publicizes and makes known the unit at national level. Then we started to have some external donors, as they got to know the project. We also organize the National Blood Donor Day event annually, where we try to reach out to public figures, so that they can also reach other people. So we get more donors. And so, for a while the numbers get better, but quickly people forget again. It is very important that they are reminded more often, because one message is not enough.
And with the pandemic, has the absence of donors worsened?
Nurse Iolanda: With the pandemic, we realize that donations are decreasing a lot, reserves are low. I believe that people are afraid to come to the Hospital, every time they say on television that there is an increase in the number of cases, the number of donors decreases here. At the beginning of the year, there was a boom in COVID patients, hospitals became chaotic, and Santa Maria was no exception. But then there was a campaign that went very well, and people came, but the idea is not that people all come at the same time, we don't need to have two to five hours of waiting in a queue to donate blood. The important thing is that people remember from time to time that they should come to donate. Women can donate every 4 months, men every 3 months, but even if they came only twice a year, the reserves would balance out.
What do you think is the reason for not coming? Myths?
Nurse Iolanda: What happens is that people come once, but then they don't come for 2 or 3 years, they forget, life is hectic, there are a lot of excuses. And at this point, I feel that people are unsympathetic. People are tired of hearing about the pandemic and Covid and they forget about the rest, and the rest is everyone else. We have to realize that we are here to help each other. Those who are healthy should almost have an obligation to help those who are not. And the fear of needles, the fear of seeing blood, it's all unfounded. The needle hurts, but it's a little bit and it's nothing that doesn't go away, and it's 10 minutes of donation. It's fast and it goes away. And we have donors who come in feeling very scared and then everything goes well. We just had a young woman who was panicking and who will be back in 4 months. People also have some fears and myths. Some people find giving blood addictive. And if you come once, you always have to. No. The person comes once and if he doesn't want to, he doesn't come back. The body will not ask you to give blood, there will be no weight loss or gain. Donors will not catch diseases. The material used is sterile and for single use, the kit is only used on a donor. And what can still happen is finding out if the person has a problem, as all blood is tested and a check-up is carried out prior to the donation. Sometimes, serious anaemia or other types of pathologies are discovered and the donors did not know about it. People giving blood and getting a disease is out of the question, it doesn't happen.
What kind of people come here to give blood?
Nurse Iolanda: Most of our donors are our medical students. And we find that when they are absent, the donations drop. When they are around, it's better. But lately it has been very weak. We have a lot of external donors, but we are at half or less the numbers we had before the pandemic. Sometimes there is no blood, which is serious, and there are surgeries that are postponed due to lack of blood. This is unfortunately a reality. The people who come want to help, they really want to donate and help. Some would even donate more if they could.
What if there's no more blood?
Nurse Iolanda: Here at Santa Maria Hospital, we need 100 units daily, and taking into account that we have around 7 donors per day, blood donations are really necessary. In this case, there are surgeries that have to be postponed, or requests have to be made to the Portuguese Institute of Blood and Transplantation, which is the highest authority and responsible for campaigning at national level. At these times, we try that way, we make appeals and there are other blood collection centres. They send us what they can, but it is not enough. It was important that each centre is self-sufficient. Now we have very low numbers, we had around 30 donors before the pandemic, and now we have much less, it is not easy.
So what can you tell us to encourage people to come?
Nurse Iolanda: They can come between the ages of 18 and 65 and if it is their first donation, they must not be over 60. Donors must weigh at least 50 kilos and be healthy. Afterwards, a screening takes place and all doubts are clarified. What we can really say is that without blood, there is no life and blood is needed every day. We have cancer patients who need blood every day, we have patients with severe anaemia, surgeries, and accidents, premature babies, and Covid patients who are ventilated and need it too. It was already necessary and with Covid patients it is even more necessary. People don't have to feel insecure about coming to give blood. Here, on the 2nd floor, it's a prime area of the Hospital, it's at the entrance, a clean area, where patients don't go, it's just the first service and they don't have to walk inside the building. They also have the right to park their cars in park and if they come around lunchtime, they receive a ticket to go to the cafeteria. Here we have a team that welcomes them in a very good mood and even if they feel fear, we try to lighten things up, joke and never leave donors alone. There is always someone there for support. We want to make people feel like coming back. The main idea is to attract new donors, the other is to keep them loyal, maintain regular donations, at least twice a year. All donations are important. There are people who worry because their blood type is A+ and very common, and as such there is a lot of blood of that type. Not so, if there are more A+ people, there will also be more people needing this blood type, so all blood groups are important.
So, please donate blood. Here at Santa Maria Unit, people will be well received and everything will be explained so that they feel confident!
Information on where to go:
Collection centre for blood donors
Santa Maria Hospital, 2nd floor, next to the main entrance
Office hours: from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, Monday to Friday (it does not close for lunch)
For more information or to clarify doubts, call: 967 048 956.
Tânia Andrade, 29 years old, Lawyer
How long have you been donating blood for?: 1st time
Motivation to donate blood? I've always wanted to donate blood because I know it's a good deed and a necessity. It can save lives and lack of blood can prevent those lives from being saved. I never wanted to donate due to fear. I'm afraid of needles, and I hear stories of people who feel bad afterwards and I was always afraid. During the first months of the year, I heard the appeals and now I decided not to postpone it anymore, so I came in. It wasn’t hard at all, I'm going to donate regularly.
Why in Santa Maria? It is easy for me. I come to consultations with my brother and take advantage of the trip and do both. I live nearby, so it's handy.
Miguel Andrade, FMUL Senior Technician
How long have you been donating blood for?: Since 2007, regularly
Motivation to donate blood? When I came to work at the Faculty, I became more aware of the topic and realized how much our donations were important. Regardless of the solidarity issue, I feel it is almost like a duty. It gives me great comfort to know that my blood can help save a life.
Why in Santa Maria? Convenience, close to the workplace.
Rita Sobral, 36 years old, GAE-FMUL Coordinator
How long have you been donating blood for?: I participated in some sporadic actions, but regularly since 2016
Motivation to donate blood? First, I became more aware of the lack of blood. Although I don't have a blood type as rare as 0-, I thought that everyone is important and that I could make a difference. Despite taking my time, I can make a difference in other ways, and giving blood is one of them. Within the scope of GAE, we carried out several campaigns with Faculty to Help and the Students’ Association and we are now going to have a Giving Tuesday, from 29 November to 10 December, to appeal to the entire FMUL community and the University to give blood.
Sónia Teixeira, 36 years old, GIE-FMUL Senior Technician
I have been a regular blood donor since 2003.
It was always something I wanted to do when I turned 18, out of solidarity and because I realized the importance of giving blood to those in need. I know it is a constant need and I feel it is a civic duty of concern for others.
The chosen place depended on where it was most convenient for me. I think I've been to over 10 different places. Now it is here because it's at my work place and I really like the team, it's fantastic and makes us feel comfortable during the donation.