On 7 Apr, the first day of Singapore’s Covid-19 circuit breaker, 17-year-old Jewel Yeo visited the BloodBank @ Dhoby Ghaut. Usually there would be other donors, but at the time of her appointment, she was alone.
“It was really empty. I was the only person there, but some of the nurses said there were a few donors who came the day before,” Jewel, an NUS High student, says.
This was Jewel’s fifth blood donation, which earned her a certificate and small token from Red Cross Singapore.
Jewel first donated blood at her school in 2018, a few months after her 16th birthday, the minimum age for doing so in Singapore.
The triple science with Honors in Chemistry student says, “My school has these annual blood drives and it’s always a huge event. The student organisers would explain the processes and ways the blood could be used to help different patients.”
When the school first organised a blood drive, Jewel was still too young to donate, but she promised herself that she would do so as soon as she was old enough.
“If you see someone fall down, your natural reaction is to try to help them up. So as a healthy person able to donate blood and help others, I felt that it was a natural response,” she says.
Initially, Jewel was afraid of the needles, but she realised there was nothing to be concerned about as the process is essentially painless.
“It’s just a couple of quick stings. Once the needle is in and the anaesthetic takes effect, the pain is numbed,” she says.
After her first donation, Jewel received a message from Red Cross Singapore that blood stocks were low and that they were in need of her blood type. So during the 2018 December holidays, she decided to donate for the second time, and never looked back.
She explains: “I felt that I should try and donate more consistently because most hospitals need a stable blood supply for their patients.”
According to the Red Cross Singapore, blood is needed to save lives in times of emergencies and to sustain the lives of those with medical conditions like leukaemia, as well as patients undergoing major surgeries.
Every year, more than 100,000 units of blood are needed to meet the transfusion needs of patients in Singapore (each successful blood donation produces 1 unit of blood).
Today, only about 1 in 50 people (1.8% of residents here) in Singapore donates blood.
With an ageing population, more advanced life-saving medical procedures, and new hospitals being set up, more blood and donors are needed to ensure a constant supply of healthy blood.
Jewel has been regularly donating almost every three months (there is a waiting period of 12 weeks between each blood donation), even recording the date on her calendar to be reminded when she can make her next appointment.
Jewel’s parents, Jenny and Johnny, both in their 50s, are supportive of their daughter and accompany her to the blood bank where they sign a consent form before each donation.
Jewel’s mother, who spoke proudly of her, says that she is very enthusiastic about blood donation and will often read up about what can be done.
Once, recalled Jenny, Jewel even persuaded them to take her to donate blood the night before a trip overseas, as she didn’t want to miss out on donating.
“She is saving lives and helping people. This is a good cause and we greatly encourage and support her,” Jenny says.
Jewel shares that her mother often tells her to eat breakfast on the day of donation and makes sure she rests at the blood bank before leaving. This is because Jewel had felt slightly faint after her first appointment.
But Jenny says: “After we took advice from (the donation centre) staff to have sufficient rest and fluids after donation, this has never happened on her subsequent visits!”
Jewel’s classmates, like her, have also been caught up in her enthusiasm. “Almost my entire class participated in the blood donation drive last year!” she says.
Some classmates were not eligible due to reasons such as low blood pressure, low haemoglobin levels or small veins, but that didn’t stop them from supporting the others who could.
Even during Covid-19, Jewel says she is not worried about donating blood because there are safety procedures like temperature screenings, declaration forms, and all staff and nurses wear masks. Furthermore, only donors are allowed to enter the blood bank.
“(For the last appointment) I also wore a mask and I went in and came out as quickly as possible,” she says.
Currently, all blood banks are still operating on appointment. There are four blood banks located at Health Sciences Authority, Dhoby Ghaut, Woodlands and Westgate Tower.
“In these times, it’s extremely important to have a stable blood supply because all around the world you hear about hospitals being overloaded,” Jewel says.
Unfortunately, in light of the Covid-19 safe distancing measures, Red Cross Singapore is experiencing a fall in donors.
Director of the Singapore Red Cross Blood Donor Programme Robert Teo told the Pride: “Some donors may not be aware that blood donation remains an essential service and that our blood banks are still open. However, the need for blood does not stop. Blood is still needed daily to support the needs of patients in Singapore.”
As for concerns that donors may be asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that “respiratory viruses are not known to be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus.”
Jewel, who aims to pursue a career in healthcare, hopes that more young people can donate blood and contribute to the cause.
“I think it is natural for people to want to help others and hopefully, by encouraging people to act on this instinct it is possible to further inspire kindness in others,” she says.
“If I can do it, other teenagers can do it too.”
To find out more about how you can donate blood, visit https://www.redcross.sg.