Platform of Goodness: How Blood Agents Made Blood Donations Easy and Enjoyable

Текст: Юрій Марченко
Дата: 15 Березня 2023

Within the Platform of Goodness project, the editorial staff of Platfor.ma online magazine pay visits to worthy projects, personally help their causes, and write pieces about their experience to raise awareness of important initiatives and show people that helping others is easy. This time we visited Blood Agents, the initiative that for many years has been promoting comprehensive blood donorship in Ukraine, doing that creatively and ironically.

🇺🇦 Text in Ukrainian is available here 🇺🇦


“It was with the Blood Agents that I brought myself to my first blood donation at Amosov National Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery. It was a wonderful experience, all clean and nice, with 5 minutes spent on a blood test, and about 10 to 15 minutes for the donation itself. I opted for a chair near a window; the view was beautiful… The staff were nice, too, asking about how I was feeling, both when my blood donation was in progress and after. They treated me to tea and delicious cookies, before and after the donation 🙂 Besides, I learned that at this clinic they offer you a blood donor’s ID after your third donation (unlike the Okhmatdyt, where they give you the same ID after your fifth donation). Thank you so much, I’ll definitely do it again.”

This is the latest (chronologically) feedback for the Amosov Institute Blood Donation Center on donor.ua, Ukraine’s main website dedicated to blood donation. With about 3,000 surgeries performed at Amosov Institute each year, the clinic has an insatiable demand for donors’ blood and blood components, and the patients’ relatives’ efforts are not enough to cover that demand. Enter blood donors.

From Chance Event to Systematic Approach

The abovementioned Blood Agents is an organization promoting blood donations in Ukraine since 2015. In 2013, project manager Olena Balbek had to search for donors for her relative, a little girl who needed an urgent platelet concentrate transfusion from as many as 30 donors. The process was so remarkably toilful that in 2015, Olena decided to try and work as a volunteer at the Okhmatdyt National Specialized Children’s Hospital, where she welcomed blood donors and guided them through the process, both on the site and via online counseling. This temporary initiative later morphed into a sort of a movement of mediators between the medical staff and the blood donors, called “Wednesdays at Okhmatdyt.”

Another few years passed, and the initiative expanded and became more systematic, with the volunteers being on stand-by duty at both the Amosov Institute (every Tuesday) and the Kyiv Heart Institute (every Thursday). For all of these years, not a week went by without volunteers on duty, and the database of blood donors was increased by several thousand names. It worked, too: the Amosov Institute, where the annual influx of donors used to be around 600, started receiving over 2,000 people yearly after the Blood Agents joined.

“Still, sometimes it seems a failure is inevitable. For instance, we once received a call for help in the afternoon of December 31: an elderly lady needed blood for her urgent surgery. With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, what were our chances? Still, we put the word out, and people were quick to respond. They donated blood, the surgery was performed, and all ended up well for the elderly lady. Quite a New Year’s Eve miracle — and such miracles are common in donorship.”

Sonia, a volunteer with Blood Agents, leads us inside the Amosov National Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery. People in white lab coats go back and forth along the light lengthy corridor. Some of them wear their lab coats over everyday civilian clothing — this is how we tell donors apart. Various blood donation centers receive several dozen of them daily.

Bohdan, our photographer, decides to give it a go and donate blood, for the first time in his life.

“And now the lab technician will draw a few ml of your blood for the vitals check. For instance, if your hemoglobin levels are too low, below 120, you can’t donate blood, as you may faint. Next, you will have an appointment with a general practitioner, who will perform a medical examination on you and your blood test results and have the final say in whether you are good to donate blood. After they give you all clear, you can have your procedure,” explains Sonia.

It’s the explanations that the Blood Agents volunteers are in particular preoccupied with. Usually, there are several volunteers stationed at every location, eager to walk the donors through every stage of the donation process, comfort them, and offer explanations. In total, the initiative now has almost 50 volunteers. When the Blood Agents did an internal questionnaire, it turned out that almost half of those volunteers had once had firsthand experience in searching for blood donors for their relatives or close ones.

“I lost my boyfriend in a traffic accident, he died of blood loss,” shares one of the female volunteers. “Perhaps, a coping strategy kicked in, like, I failed to save him, but I can try to save others. That’s how I joined the Blood Agents. What I like about this volunteering is instant result: you see people donating blood and being happy about it, feeling good about themselves for their act of kindness that will definitely help someone.”

Ukraine has an insatiable need for blood donors. Complex surgeries often require several liters of blood, which roughly means 7 to 8 blood donors, as one cannot donate more than 475 ml at one time. This is less than 10% of one’s overall blood, as the average human body contains about 5.6 liters of blood.

In addition, blood components have a rather short ”shelf life.” Most often, medical facilities collect donors’ erythrocytes, platelets, and plasma. The latter can be stored the longest, up to 180 days; still, it takes two donations to collect one dose of plasma, and the procedure itself takes longer to complete compared with the donation of other blood components. The platelets are the fastest to expire, lasting only 5 days, so they are usually collected for specific recipients right before their marrow transplantation surgery.

Erythrocytes are donated the most frequently and can be stored for 42 days. After its expiration date, the blood is either incinerated or fed to bacteria for medical research. That, however, is a rare occasion, for since the full-scale invasion, the demand for blood has increased dramatically. In those early days, the number of blood donors also increased, with each blood donation center receiving an average of 80 people daily. Now their number plummeted to 30. On the other hand, the blood centers (which used to be quite prone to bureaucracy) learned how to cooperate and share their supplies with one another.

The blood supply, however, remains insufficient even despite the new, more effective operating models. According to pre-invasion estimates by World Health Organization, Ukraine needed 33 donors per every 1,000 of the population to cover the need for blood. The latest data shows this number to be as low as 13, which is less than half of that.

How to Tap Into One’s Vein

Just before the blood donation, we enter a kind of reception area reigned by a nurse with a kettle.

“Every donor needs to have their sweetened tea with cookies both before and after the procedure so that we don’t bleed you dry. When there’s enough glucose in your system, you are unlikely to faint,” she explains. Bakehouse bakery and Namelaka confectionery are the Blood Agents’ long-standing sweets suppliers.

Our photographer behaves, obediently consuming everything he’s supposed to eat and drink, and we proceed to the donation area. There, we see several blood-drawing machines with a couch alongside each of them. On one of those couches, there’s a blood donor, a young female.

“What motivates you to donate blood?” we ask her.

“It just feels like the right thing to do. I strongly believe that everyone needs to give to their community, especially now. Besides, that’s an easy thing to do, so why not? This is my third or fourth donation.”

While Bohdan makes himself comfortable and is being hooked up to the machine, Sonia the volunteer is telling us that the Blood Agents’ ultimate goal is to promote systematic blood donations. About 70% of blood donors only donate blood once in their lifetime, usually when responding to some urgent cry for help. They even have a special term for such people, ‘replacement donors’. However, blood donations require a systematic approach, so the volunteers do their best to encourage their guests to become regular donors. For that purpose, they support several Telegram channels, with dedicated weekly chats where those willing to donate blood at different blood centers can book a visit, and first-timers can get their questions answered. Indeed, not anyone can be a blood donor, with the list of conditions for individuals to be deferred permanently or temporarily spanning over a page and a half.

Various activities are aimed at making people wish to book another visit. For instance, there’s a photo area, with highly-acclaimed Ukrainian photographers like Serhiy Zakharov, Hanna Hrabarska, and Roma Pashkovsky volunteering to take pictures of the Blood Agents’ guests.

“Regular donors get their donors’ ID, with nice covers as a gift from us. We also have pins featuring various microorganisms and blood components designed by illustrator Dasha Urvachova that we offer for every blood donation. Today, we have a selection of 17 different pins, and some donors even managed to complete their collection.”

Recently, a young female donor lamented the loss of her collection of pins: they burned down along with her car after a Russian shelling. To support that young lady, the volunteers sent her a new collection.

A Good Deed, for Both Yourself and Others

The Blood Agents, however, have long gone beyond simply supporting blood donors. For instance, they bought six blood bank refrigerators for Amosov National Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery, and when the Institute’s blood transfusion department lost their hermetic blood bag sealing machines due to breakage, the volunteers raised UAH 300,000 [~USD 8,140] for the two new machines in just two days.

Besides, since 2018, the Blood Agents have meetings with various businesses, acting as intermediaries between those businesses and blood donation centers. They encourage employees of those companies to donate blood and even bring blood collection teams to the offices within on-the-spot blood runs. By the way, every donor receives a certificate granting them one paid leave from work, a day they can either utilize as a day off or add to their yearly vacation.

While the Blood Agents’ target demographic mostly consists of people between the ages of 20 to 30, the second-largest group consists of donors of 30 to 40 years old; there are even some donors of more advanced age. The pre-donation medical checkups for the latter are particularly thorough, as the main ruling of every blood donation is not to harm the donor.

“In blood donations, the gender-based imbalance is not a thing, as numbers of male and female donors are more or less equal,” shares Sonia. “I think most of them work in IT, and many of them work in other creative industries or medical professions, as well as law enforcement.”

Our case fits in this setup, as Bohdan the photographer does belong to a creative industry. After the donation, he is treated with another cup of sweet tea and more cookies and is frequently asked about his well-being. The volunteers explain that it’s normal to feel fatigued, but that one should take precautions. In general, however, blood donations are good for the donor as well.

“Recovering mechanisms of your body kick in, causing a kind of cellular rejuvenation. If you eat well and live a healthy lifestyle for the next couple of days, that rejuvenation will be most beneficial for you,” says Sonia.

Aliona Myha, Head of the Blood Center at Amosov Institute, confirms that statement:

“When I learn that someone is a blood donor, to me, the trustworthiness of that person increases manifoldly. For starters, it takes certain courage. Again, that person is healthy, as they undergo medical checkups once every two months and gets their health closely monitored, as required by blood donation procedures. The person is also hardy, as regular blood donations cleanse your body by getting rid of older cells and by the body producing their replacements.”

Another unusual effect of every blood donation, according to Aliona Myha, is euphoria.

“Our donors jokingly say that we tapped into their veins, for they are leaving us feeling high, knowing that they have done a good deed. Is that not yet another case for becoming a blood donor?


Please support Blood Agents here. You can also read this text in Ukrainian.

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