PINAR DEL RÍO.— Every time they see him back in the hematology-oncology ward, with the weariness of someone with low hemoglobin levels, the doctors joke with Luis Mario Amarales Valera telling him: “Come on, we’re going to give you horses blood, to perk you up.”
But eight year old Luis Mario knows that the red liquid that gives him his strength back doesn’t come from any of the animals the doctors mention.
Kenia, his mother, has explained to him that the 49 blood transfusions he has received throughout his life, have come from the veins of men and women who make one of the “most beautiful” gestures in the world.
As such, Luis realizes just how important blood donors are.
According to Kenia it all began following a routine medical check-up when Luis was only 18 months old. “He had a hemoglobin count of five and the doctors immediately became concerned.
“They gave him a transfusion and referred him to the Hematology and Immunology Institute in Havana, where he underwent a test which showed he had a deficit of red blood cells.”
After that, Luis’ life would get more difficult.
“Every time he got a fever his hemoglobin levels would drop and we would have to rush to the Pepe Portilla Pediatric Hospital” recalls Kenia.
This is how life has been for the family over recent years. “His hemoglobin levels have dropped to five, four, three, but blood has always been available for him,” states Luis’ mother.
“When there’s none left at the hospital, because a child needs it for their therapy, we call the Provincial Blood Bank and everything is sorted out in a matter of minutes.”
Ovidio Miranda Rodríguez, coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in Pinar del Río, notes that the provinces has been consistently fulfilling its 1,833 blood donation plan for the last 50 months.
The figures aside, she highlights that this means guaranteed blood supplies for health centers in the region, able to cover demand for surgical procedures or any other treatment a patient might need, as well as emergency cases.
This is the result of the joint efforts of CDRs and family doctors to find new donors, and maintain existing ones, according to Ovidio. This essential program in the province is supported by an army of over 9,870 people, who over the last 12 months, in addition to covering hospital demand for blood, contributed 7,882 liters of plasma for the production of medicines.
Among donors are those who have been giving blood for over 30 years like Nanchy López Camejo, as well as others, including young people, like the members of the blood donors detail from the Doctor Ernesto Che Guevara University of Medical Sciences, who made 150 contributions last year alone.
Reinaldo López Hernández had just returned from Angola as part of the Cuban mission supporting the country’s independence struggle, when he made his first donation.
“Several comrades had been injured in action and urgently needed blood, so I decided to step forward,” recalls Reinaldo.
The experience of passing blood from his arm directly into that of one of his compatriots would mark him forever.
“Perhaps it’s not the same for someone who doesn’t know where their blood is going, but doing it and seeing the other person get better as you give them this important liquid, well it’s something you’ll never forget.”
After returning to Cuba, Reinaldo studied Marxism-Leninism and History, at Pinar del Río’s Rafael María de Mendive Higher Pedagogical Institute, maintaining a strong link with the Education sector to date.
At 52 years of age and having made 100 donations, Reinaldo takes great pride in knowing that there are people alive today thanks to his blood. “It’s a way of continuing Fidel’s legacy, a man who fought tirelessly to improve the health of our people,” he states.
Reinaldo isn’t short of anecdotes. “I have seen six-foot tall, big, stocky men faint when they get to the donation center. But when they come round they still insist on giving blood.”
Regarding the supposed negative effects of frequent donations on the human body, Reinaldo notes that it all depends: “I have been giving blood for over 30 years and I feel physically fantastic. I have no pain and lead and active life in every respect.”
Even so, some still question why he continues to donate blood after so many years. But Reinaldo, who knows how important blood supplies are for a hospital, always responds with the same answer.
“My wife received two blood transfusions while giving birth to our children, and no one ever asked me if I was the donor or not. It’s an achievement we have made thanks to the altruistic actions of thousands of Cubans. This is why I want to keep feeling that sense of satisfaction of helping others, for as long as my health permits.”
Neither Kenia or her son know Reinaldo, but it is very likely that Luis Mario has received his blood at some point. Both live in the city of Pinar del Río and have the same blood type (B+). What is more, over the last six years one has made frequent visits to the blood bank, while the other has needed dozens of transfusions.
“He’s been given so much blood; I wouldn’t have been able to pay for it. Imagine, he’s had 49 transfusions, and almost always with two or three bags, depending on his condition,” states Luis’ mother.
“You see how he comes in and he’s weak, because his hemoglobin levels are low, but as soon as they give him the transfusion he changes completely; it’s like they gave him a bit of life.”
Kenia has never had the opportunity to meet any of the people that have donated blood for her son. “I hope to one day, so I can thank them infinitely for such a beautiful and human act,” she says, her voice cracking slightly as she hugs her son, who despite his illness is currently in third grade at the Camilo Cienfuegos semi-boarding school.
“The reason he is here with me today is thanks to God, the doctors, and blood donors,” she adds.
So, Luis Mario with the ingenuity of an eight year old, repeats the joke that his doctors tell him every time he returns to the ward, to distract him as they take one of his arms and insert the needle: “Come on we are going to give you horse blood,” he smiles.