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UCLA blood drive reminds community of positive impact of donation

Members of the Blood Donation Initiative at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine are pictured. The initiative hosted a blood drive Friday to encourage other medical and dental students to donate blood. (Eva Danesh/Daily Bruin)

By Eva Danesh

Jan. 17, 2024 10:51 p.m.

Medical, dental and nursing students joined a collaborative blood drive Friday to collect donations for patients at UCLA Health hospitals.

The drive, which took place at Geffen Hall, was hosted by the Blood Donation Initiative at the David Geffen School of Medicine in partnership with groups including the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project and NMDP – formerly known as the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match. The initiative was established in 2021 by medical students who noticed a lack of donation drives offered to their peers at a time when blood centers were experiencing large deficits in blood supplies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Martin Ramirez, a leader of BDI.

Melissa Lopez, a third-year medical student and a leader of BDI, said the group has built stronger connections with students in other UCLA graduate schools, including the dental and nursing schools, who similarly understand the value of donating blood.

“It is a special position to be in as a medical student,” Lopez said. “You get to see the journey of your donating blood today, and then the next day you’re in maybe a trauma scenario or (with) a patient who’s having internal bleeding. And they get the units, and you see the color return to their face or even the energy just come back into them.”

Ramirez, a third-year medical student, added that his experiences during on-site rotations – particularly in emergency medicine – have emphasized the critical nature of blood donations.

“I personally have been in situations where we’re trying to resuscitate patients, and we need dozens of units of blood, and I’ve been able to see these patients recover,” Ramirez said. “If it weren’t for the donations that were provided, (they) probably wouldn’t be here today.”

In addition to supporting patients at UCLA Health hospitals through blood donations, Ramirez said the drive also partnered with UCLA’s Mobile Clinic Project to donate blankets and other necessities to vulnerable populations in Los Angeles.

The UCLA Blood and Platelet Center donated one blanket for each person who donated blood Friday, said Daniel Velazquez, chair of the Mobile Clinic’s health education committee.

“We’ve heard that there were about more than 30 donations already, so that means that more than 30 blankets will go directly to our clients,” Velazquez said. “We’ll hope to see those soon – obviously it’s been a tough winter season already.”

Velazquez said the Mobile Clinic Project is entirely run by UCLA undergraduate, medical and public health students. He added that it provides health and social services to medically underserved populations in the West Hollywood area every week, rain or shine.

He said the program is so impactful that even volunteers who graduated UCLA are still eager to engage, including a current resident physician who became involved with the clinic as an undergraduate.

“We help offer an alternative form of health care that we hope is a little bit more comforting, low-barrier, and we really try to do that by being ourselves,” Velazquez said.

[Related Link: UCLA Health receives grant to expand Homeless Healthcare Collaborative program]

Ali Al-Saleem, an undergraduate student who volunteers as a caseworker with the clinic, said he appreciates engaging with the communities that visit the clinic and working with fellow Bruins to make a positive impact.

He said he spoke with attendees about ways to get involved with the clinic before donating blood himself. Since arriving at UCLA, Al-Saleem said he has donated blood every time he has been eligible, which is every three months.

“It’s a really easy way for me to be able to contribute in a good way, and it doesn’t really take much out of us,” said Al-Saleem, a fourth-year human biology and society student.

(Eva Danesh/Daily Bruin)
Members of the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project pose in front of a table. (Eva Danesh/Daily Bruin)

Representatives from NMDP were also at the event to encourage attendees to join the bone marrow registry. This registry helps increase the chances of finding a donor for patients with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, as well as blood disorders including sickle cell anemia, said Katherine Lopez, a member recruitment coordinator for NMDP.

Lopez said 18 swabs were collected at the event, meaning 18 patients could potentially be matched with a donor soon. Donors must be matched through genetics rather than blood type, meaning a large and diverse registry is needed, Lopez said. He added that it is valuable for future medical professionals to understand its importance.

“For future students that are aspiring to be doctors, eventually in the near future, they will encounter patients that have blood cancer. … This is where it all starts,” Lopez said. “Without a donor, without somebody in the registry, we won’t be able to potentially cure their cancers.”

[Related Link: UCLA football partners with nonprofits to recruit students for marrow registry]

Al-Saleem said while people may not know where exactly their donation is going, they know it has the potential to save people. Each blood donation could save more than one life, according to the American Red Cross.

Melissa Lopez said in addition to seeing blood supplies play a crucial role in the hospital setting, many of her medical school classmates have shared stories about the difference blood and other resources have made in their lives and the lives of their relatives.

“We’re all really motivated to support our communities and give back,” Melissa Lopez said.

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