Three years ago, during my second year of university, I spotted a sandwich board on the VIU campus as I approached from the bus stop. It was a white and red sign with the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) logo. It must have been advertising a blood donor information booth in the cafeteria, or a “What’s your type?” blood testing event. Whatever it was, I didn’t have time to check it out, but it planted a shiny new idea in my head: I could donate blood. It had only occurred to me once before, several years earlier, but the thought escaped my mind as soon as it had come.

I think I’m not alone in not thinking about donating blood. Blood, after all, is a bit of a sticky subject to begin with. Sure, we have on average more than five litres of blood in our bodies, and we depend on it to live, but how often do you we really see it? How often do we think about people who need it more than we do? How often do we even encounter those people?

A group of fourth-year nursing students at VIU are hoping to bring more awareness to the student population about the need for blood donors. I met Claire Parkhouse on Nov. 7 in the cafeteria entrance, seated at a table with brochures about CBS, and information about the upcoming donor clinics at Beban Park. Along with students Lindsay Sullivan, Cathy Dutton, Myra Lo, and Rebekah Roberts, she has chosen CBS as the focus of a group community practice placement. Their three days in both the upper and lower cafeterias from Nov. 6–8 was officially called Blood Donor Awareness Week.

“We found that there is a lack of awareness surrounding blood donation, especially among the young adult population (18–35 year olds) so the purpose of Blood Donation Awareness Week was to bring this knowledge to the staff and students at VIU,” Parkhouse says. The students also spearheaded a survey aimed at gauging interest in bringing a biannual blood donor clinic to VIU.

“We had a really positive response to our survey,” Parkhouse says, with responses from 163 non-donors, 67 donors, and about 40 people signing up on the spot to become donors, or to learn more about the process.

Through their research, they found that the top reason students don’t donate is that they don’t know where or how to do so, followed closely behind by the matter of convenience.

Chris Barron oversees the group’s participation with CBS, and understands the need to recruit new donors on the Island, at their convenience. “By 2015 we actually need to recruit 100 thousand new donors nationally to meet the demand for blood. One way we recruit new donors is to go where new donors are located.”

This isn’t the first time the suggestion has been made to hold a blood donor clinic at VIU. On Mar. 25, 2008, sciences student Ian Anderson brought CBS to campus. The plan was to then hold biannual clinics, but CBS didn’t return as intended.

First of all, half the gym—with courses still running in the other half—was not exactly conducive to a comfortable donor experience. Second, “the clinic wasn’t very successful in terms of units collected,” Barron explains. “A clinic in Nanaimo at that time would normally produce 90 units. The clinic at [VIU] provided 61 units. We expected to see 104 people come through the doors and we saw 90. The reason we didn’t actually collect well was the amount of deferrals and reactions we experienced.”

Barron chalks it up to a lack of information made available during recruitment. Making sure students have all the right information about basic eligibility, height and weight requirements, hydration, and eating well beforehand plays a huge part in ensuring those who come to give, can.

After my own sandwich board epiphany, I looked up where I could donate blood in Nanaimo. The clinic, held monthly, was at Beban Park—a 20 minute bus ride away from my house downtown, only accessible on two bus routes. I made an appointment, but recruited a friend with a car to go with me.

First, I got my haemoglobin levels tested. From there I was given a questionnaire in which I was to fill out the first 13 questions in a semi-private booth. Next, I went into a private booth with a nurse to check my blood pressure, check my arms for needle usage, and to answer the remaining questions 14–29.

This was where she got me. I was ineligible to donate for a three-month period for not knowing the sexual history of a recent partner.

The second time I tried to donate blood, I thought I had it all figured out. I was working until 5 p.m. that day, and had made an appointment for 6:30 p.m.. This left me enough time to run home, grab my bus, and take the 20 minute ride.

The process was the same zigzag of my previous visit, but once I got to the questionnaire with the nurse, I got the green light.

Once situated on the maroon bed, my arm poised and ready, my nurse asked me, “did you have a big meal before you came here today?” It was offhand, an easy question to answer, but I had to pause as I realized that in my rush getting to the clinic, I hadn’t eaten since my lunch break around 3 p.m. After at least a half hour if not an hour process to get to the bed, there I was, ready to give my blood, without a full stomach.

It was on my third attempt that I was finally able to give blood, but had I been a less persistent person, I could have been turned off the experience for a long time to come, or decided against going through the inconvenient process.

Overall, Parkhouse’s group found that 93 percent of survey respondents would definitely donate, or would be more motivated to donate if there was a clinic on campus. While there is still much more research and discussion with CBS to be done before a clinic could become a reality, Barron insists that CBS will be ready whenever VIU is.

In the meantime, the focus will have to remain on more awareness and recruitment, and Barron hopes that the student body will become educated and curious enough to attend the clinics at Beban Park.

“We say it can take up to an hour to donate blood. Sometimes it’s [longer], sometimes it’s shorter. All in all it is about an hour out of your day up to a maximum of six times a year. six hours a year is all the time it takes to help many people in our country…six hours is nothing,” Barron says.

The next blood donor clinics in Nanaimo will be Dec. 18 (1–8 p.m.), 19 (12–7 p.m.), and 20 (12–7 p.m.) at Beban Park. Check your eligibility at <> or call 1-888-2-DONATE to book an appointment.