Every three weeks from the time Hunter Kuzik was born he has spent hours of being hooked up to a blood bag at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. 13 years and 227 blood transfusions later it has become routine.
“Hunter is getting a transfusion tomorrow so the need doesn’t stop, it continues,” said Carrie Kuzik, Hunter’s mother.
Hunter has a rare blood disorder called Diamond Blackfan anemia. His bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells that carry oxygen through his body.
On Monday Mayor Cathy Heron proclaimed December as Canadian Blood Services Give Life Holiday Campaign. When Kuzik read the announcement on the mayor’s Facebook page, she no longer felt alone.
“We need people like (the mayor) who have a lot of people who follow her and she has such an influence in the community to speak up about it,” she said. “Sometimes you feel like a lone wolf, you just feel alone trying to do this and it’s nice to have someone else mention it.”
Because of Hunter’s condition, he will need blood transfusions for the rest of his life. Only 25 to 35 new cases are diagnosed in North America each year, which means Kuzik is often advocating on her own.
“It’s frustrating. It doesn’t get the government funding that other health issues, like cancer, have. It doesn’t get a lot of recognition,” she said. “It’s really hard because we’re already having to deal with the day-to-day stuff and the heartbreak of having to go through this, and then to be the ones responsible to raise money to find a cure for him.”
She said blood donations are Hunter’s lifeline. There have been a few times when Hunter has shown up to the hospital and there’s been a shortage of blood supply. As a result, Hunter would have to come back in a couple of weeks to get the rest.
With the proclamation Kuzik said she hopes more people will be motivated to donate blood.
According to Canadian Blood Services only 50 per cent of Canadians are eligible to donate blood. Of that 50 per cent, only four per cent give blood.
In St. Albert donor numbers are even lower. The organization estimates that roughly one per cent of St. Albertans who are eligible to donate actually do.
Heron, who’s an avid blood donor, said she wanted to proclaim the month in order to raise awareness and push eligible donors to hit the blood banks.
“Of course as soon as your mother needs blood you’re the first one to line up and give blood, but it’s a very altruistic thing to give blood to a stranger,” she said in a phone interview. “I feel like everyone should be doing it.”
Heron started donating blood when she was in university. Now a habit, she said the procedure – which takes between five and 15 minutes – leaves her feeling like she’s made a difference.
While being mayor, Heron said she plans to proclaim every December as Canadian Blood Services Give Life Holiday Campaign.
“When I hear that the St. Albert average is half of that, less than that (average of Canadian donors), I want to change it,” she said. “I want to make people who have never done it realize how simple it is.”
Liz James, territory manager for donor relations at Canadian Blood Services, said blood is especially needed around Christmas.
“During the holiday season we know it’s a slower time for blood donations because of travel, family activities and changes in routines,” she said.
“I was so thrilled,” James said of the proclamation. “We worked so hard to increase the donor base in St. Albert, and new donors have grown this year. To see her stand behind it means the world to hospital patients.”
In 2016 St. Albert had 214 new donors show up at the blood banks. Another 284 new donors registered to give blood in 2017.
While all blood types are needed, those with O negative are in the highest demand. Known as ‘universal blood’, donors with this type can give blood to any other type.
O negative is often used in emergency situations when there’s not enough time to test a patient’s blood type.
James said 17,000 units are needed each day, and there’s currently less than three days of O negative blood supply across Canada. An individual donates one unit of blood per visit.
She said even though O negative is in the highest demand, the organization is calling on all different blood types.
Kuzik agrees. While she feels fortunate for the universal blood type, she said a few years ago Hunter had so many transfusions of O negative that the blood bank wasn’t sure what his actual blood type was.
“It would be nice for them to have a steady supply of A negative blood. Any blood type really, and leave the O negative blood for emergencies and last resort things, not just regular transfusions,” she said.
According to the Government of Canada it takes up to 50 donors to help one person seriously injured in a car accident, up to five donors to help someone who needs cardiovascular surgery and up to eight donors a week to help someone going through leukemia treatment.
For more information on eligibility, where to donate and clinic times visit: https://blood.ca.