A reliable supply of blood is essential for any hospital doing surgical interventions like those carried out on our hospital ships. During some surgeries, like the huge tumour removals that are sometimes performed, patients can lose a number of units of blood which need to be replaced by transfusion.
They do keep a small supply in traditional refrigerated storage like most blood banks, but they also keep hundreds of units of blood using a very unique system, that allows the blood to be kept for long periods of time in optimum condition at 37⁰C.
When each new crewmember arrives on the ship they are asked if they would be willing to donate blood. If they say “yes” then the relevant pre-screening is done and their blood type is recorded in the database. Whenever a certain type of blood is needed the next crewmember on the list is called to come and donate right then and there. This way the hospital has hundreds of units of blood available at any one time so there is never a shortage!
Interesting fact: Oddly enough in West Africa blood type B+ is more common than it is in other parts of the world so crewmembers with B+ get called on slightly more often to donate!
Most blood donors never get to meet the people who receive their blood but sometimes the crew do find out where theirs went. One such case was that of Hasanatu who comes from a remote area of Guinea and had a huge facial tumour removed. Because of the size and location of the tumour the surgeons knew that she was going to lose a lot of blood, so the night before the operation 9 crewmembers were called on to give blood in preparation for the surgery.
When Hasanatu found out that 9 people from 5 different countries (Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand & United States) had given their blood for her surgery she asked if she could meet them. Not everyone could make it but 6 of the blood donors gathered on the dock to take a photo with Hasanatu. She shook each ones hand and said “djarama”, which means thank you in Pular her native language.