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Prince George faces off against Kelowna in blood donation challenge

Anyone who is letting a fear of needles stop them from participating in this year's Canadian Blood Services Interior Drive for Life can look to four-year-old Audrey Saulters for some inspiration.
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Audrey Saulters, 4, helped kick off this year's Canadian Blood Services interior Drive For Life on Friday.

Anyone who is letting a fear of needles stop them from participating in this year's Canadian Blood Services Interior Drive for Life can look to four-year-old Audrey Saulters for some inspiration.

Over nearly a year of treatment for cancer, the youngster received 84 "pokes," her mother, Pamela, noted as the two helped launch this year's campaign Friday during a kickoff event at Pine Centre Mall.

That's a sight more than the 14 that even the most dedicated of blood donors will contend with over a year - one in the finger to test their blood for iron and then one to make the donation during each of the seven times they can show up at the clinic over a 12-month-span.

"Many people say they're afraid of needles," Saulters said in response to one of the more common excuses people use for not giving blood.

"Children are afraid of hospitals. Children are afraid of doctors. Children are afraid of surgery, nurses, chemotherapy and radiation. Children are afraid of being away from home. Children are afraid of being sick. Please ensure our children are not afraid of running out of life-saving blood."

The Interior Drive for Life is a friendly eight-week competition between Prince George and Kelowna to see which city is best at meeting and exceeding its targets. Prince George will have 18 clinic days to collect 1,152 donations and bring in 230 new donors and Kelowna has 28 days to get 1,792 donations and bring in 368 new donors.

A sometimes tearful Saulters emphasized the importance of blood donations in helping Audrey combat rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of cancer that typically develops in the muscles. She received four transfusions during her time at B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, but there was one child there who needed 25 transfusions in just 11 days.

"Cancer patients undergo treatments that kill off fast growing cells in their body, and deplete many of its healthy cells as well," Saulters said. "Red blood cells often crash and are replaced with donor blood."

Cancer patients also run low on platelets, which aid in clotting. A normal low-end platelet count is 201 but the count for a cancer patient can sometimes be as little as half that and often transfusions are not done until it's as low as 20, or even in the single digits.

"At this point, their body's ability to clot blood if an emergency happened is next to none," Saulters said. "Many of our children are told that trampolines are risky, as the jolting and jiggling could cause internal bleeding."

As for that other common excuse for not donating - a lack of time - Saulters said the commitment is just one hour every two months. She also challenged those who do donate on a regular basis to bring two first-time donors along with them the next time they're at the clinic.

Last year, Kelowna won the challenge, collecting 1,698 units of blood and acquiring 200 new donors. For its part, Prince George collected 1,085 donations and acquired 104 new donors.

In the past five years, Kelowna has won three times, in 2009, 2010 and 2013 and Prince George was victorious in 2010 and 2012.

According to a recent media report, Prince George and Kelowna are the two most generous communities in B.C. in terms of giving blood but Amy Erickson, the CBS's partnership specialist in Prince George, said there is still plenty of room at the clinic.

"We have about 600 open appointments over the next eight weeks, so despite our great numbers, they're still not as high as we need them to be," she said.

Located at 2277 Westwood Drive, in the strip mall next to Arby's, the clinic is open every Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and every fourth Saturday - Sept. 13 and Oct. 11 during the challenge.

To book an appointment visit www.blood.ca or call 1-888-2-DONATE (1-888-236-6283).

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