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Mercy Ships Celebrates World Blood Donor Day
Date:6/14/2009

o makes his living as a zemidjan driver (motorbike taxi), received more than 12 pints of blood during his surgery. Since childhood, he lived with a tumor on his shoulder. The tumor grew and spread along his arm. It was painful and debilitating.    He was not able to carry anything and had to wear a long-sleeved shirt every day because he was ashamed of the large growth.

When Ambroise was a baby, a doctor had told his parents they could perform surgery to remove the tumor. But his parents were afraid. Later, when he was older, they could not afford it. Now, after a free surgery onboard the Mercy Ship, Ambroise can drive his zemidjan all day without pain. He can lift and carry things. He is feeling strong and is thankful.

The blood bank onboard the Africa Mercy is not stored in a refrigerator in neatly labeled packages for days or weeks. Instead, the 400-person volunteer crew sign up to give blood on demand to help patients being treated in one of the six state-of-the-art surgery suites onboard the floating hospital that sails to a different West African port every year.

"The Africa Mercy is unique as a 'walking' blood bank," says Sarah Louden, Australian medical technologist. "We usually have about 30 potential donors for each blood type." The laboratory onboard compares the patient blood samples, which are taken and tested upon admission, with the potential crew donors. Crew members are contacted as needed.

Louden says that currently 118 crew members onboard the Mercy Ship have signed up to donate blood on call. Crew can be asked at any time day or night to give a pint. Often, the donation, still warm, is walked straight over to the patient.

Since the ship began surgeries in the port of Cotonou this past February, 60 units of blood have been donated to 21 patients, according to a ship's spokesperson.

With the help of the Mercy Ships floating blood bank, the medical
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