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Teens giving blood to help the community

First-time blood donor Alex Amstutz, a student at Cowichan secondary, watches as phlebotomist Georgina Lawson of the Canadian Blood Services clinic prepares for the process Jan. 6 at the Island Savings Centre. - Andrew Leong
First-time blood donor Alex Amstutz, a student at Cowichan secondary, watches as phlebotomist Georgina Lawson of the Canadian Blood Services clinic prepares for the process Jan. 6 at the Island Savings Centre.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Grads at Cowichan secondary hope to set a new trend, and not just at their school.

They’ve been donating blood to help meet a province-wide need, and hope their efforts will be mirrored by the Cowichan community at large.

“B.C. is one of the lowest in the whole country for donating blood,” explains Grade 12 Cow High student Alex Amstutz.

“Last year, roughly 30 per cent of Canadians said they would donate blood — less than four per cent actually did. And only two per cent of B.C. residents donate on a regular basis.”

Just 2.7 per cent of British Columbians donate blood.

Which means, Amstutz added, the province doesn’t have enough blood to help those who need it, and has to import it.

“This is a great way to get the word out there,” said Amstutz. “And starting early is really important too.”

Amstutz looked into donating blood after he turned 17 — the legal age to donate blood in Canada.

That’s when he found out about the Young Blood for Life Challenge.

“I brought it up through the grad council meetings, which we have every week, and got lots of support from the grad class and teachers, so it moved along for there,” he said.

Twenty spots for the first clinic in January quickly filled.

“There was a line-up (of students) waiting to sign up for the clinic,” Amstutz said.

Fortunately, the program continues until May, with students donating blood every month in the meantime.

And, of course, students aren’t the only ones who can register for clinics at the Island Savings Centre every month.

“I went through in about 45 to 50 minutes, but most of it is spent filling out paperwork,” Amstutz said. “Actually sitting in the chair donating was anywhere from five to 15 minutes. All the staff are really helpful and reassuring and they know it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s frightening to some people who are afraid of needles.

“They talk you through it, keep the conversation going and make it really easy for you. And it doesn’t hurt that bad at all — it’s surprising.”

Amstutz said some feel light-headed afterward, but he felt fine.

“They encourage you to drink and eat lots; they have a refreshment stand with juice and cookies and they make you stay for 10 to 15 minutes afterward, just to make sure you’re OK to go.”

Cowichan secondary teacher Stu Hillyard said the program is entirely organized by students for students.

“Alex and his team demonstrated excellent leadership, advertising the event, signing students up and even phoning each student the night before (the clinic) to remind them about it,” Hillyard said.

To learn more about donating blood, visit www.bloodservices.ca or call 1-888-236-6283.

DCS students open their veins

Cow High grads are joined by Duncan Christian School students in adding some young blood to the provincial donor drive.

Duncan Christian School principal Kevin Visscher recently challenged his Grade 12 transitions class to begin donating blood early in life.

With six students, he attended a Canadian Blood Services clinic where students also learned about registration procedures, the importance of eating before donating, and the effect of overseas travel and country of origin when donating blood.

Visscher and his class offer a friendly challenge to other high school teachers and students to donate and get the habit established early in life.

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