On the birthday of scientist Karl Landsteiner, awarded the Noble Prize for his discovery of the blood groups A, B, and O, we recognize World Blood Donor Day. This year the theme is:  

“Celebrate the Gift of Blood.” 

And what a true gift it is! 

 The need for safe, healthy blood donations is essential in the healthcare world.  

Blood has the power to give life and take it away, and without it, healthcare systems cannot survive. The need for donated blood is never more essential than during a medical crisis, especially in the operating room. 

It’s not often that blood donors know who receives their donation or how it is used since most traditional blood donations go into blood banks where it is stored until a need arises.  

But on the Africa Mercy, a unique bonus of giving blood is seeing how it is used onboard the ship.  

Upon boarding the Africa Mercy, every volunteer is invited to be a part of the “walking blood bank.” After signing up to participate, the willing volunteers are kept on file, and on-call should a need arise for their particular blood type. Joleen was one of the volunteers who received such an opportunity, and her experience came with an amazing twist. 

Joleen, a nurse from Canada, served with Mercy Ships for six months during the Senegal field service, where she registered to donate her blood as a type B+ candidate. While she volunteered in hopes of making a difference, she never suspected that she’d have a special relationship with her blood recipient. 

During our time in Senegal, a patient named Ndella came onboard the ship in need of reconstructive plastic surgery for a large, benign growth on her lip. After Ndella’s first surgery, complications made it evident that she was not healing as the doctors had hoped. Joleen worked three night shifts in a row caring for Ndella and began feeling discouraged that the procedure was not going as expected. With extensive bleeding and swelling in her airway, Ndella was soon placed on a ventilator. After a fourth night working to care for Ndella, Joleen returned to her cabin feeling defeated. She decided to pray and asked, “God, what more can I do for this woman?” Not long after that, Joleen woke up to a note from her cabinmate telling her to call the lab immediately. It would be the answer to her prayer. 

Initially, Joleen was asked to be on-call for any patient who might need her blood type. Later, she was called by the lab to come and donate to a patient in surgery in need of blood.  

When she returned to the hospital, she learned that Ndella, her patient for several nights, was the person in need of her blood. She eagerly gave her donation, which was immediately taken into the Operating Room to Ndella, who was in surgery. Two days later, when Joleen was back in the ward caring for Ndella, she said it was surreal to check Ndella’s chart and see her own name as one of the blood donors. 

Thanks to our volunteers, Ndella endured four surgeries onboard the Africa Mercy, and a few weeks later, she was able to walk down the gangway, a person transformed.Ndella captured a special place in the hearts of the hospital staff and Joleen especially. 

“Donating to Ndella was the most memorable experience of my nursing career,” Joleen said. 

Mercy Ships volunteers give the gifts of their time, resources, talents, care, and sometimes, they give the gift of their own blood. Visit mercyships.org/get-involved to see how you can be a part of the journey to hope and healing.