Dubai: A 59-year-old cancer survivor in Dubai is extremely grateful she could come to the rescue of several patients, many of them with cancer, before her own diagnosis of the disease by donating blood platelets to them 323 times.
Gail D’Souza, an Indian expat from Mumbai who has been living in Dubai since 1992, told Gulf News she was a regular blood donor from 2003 until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.
D’Souza let on that her blood type is ‘O Negative’. Also referred to as the universal blood type, ‘O Negative’ blood can be received by people of any blood group and is used most commonly for transfusions and in cases of trauma, emergency, surgery etc where the blood type of the patient is unknown.
“I was willing to rise to any emergency requirement,” she said.
But as fate would have it, D’Souza had to stop with the blood donations when she was detected with cancer in her right breast. “I feel thankful to the Almighty that I could be of some help when I could. Not just that, I also feel blessed that I could tide over my own health crisis easily as I received timely treatment from the best doctors, with people, some of them completely unknown to me, joining in the prayers for my recovery.”
Certificate of appreciation
D’Souza, who turned the corner after nine months of treatment, holds a certificate of appreciation from the Dubai Blood Donation Centre under Dubai Health Authority for her multiple blood donations.
The certificate acknowledges her “generous and continuous platelet donation, saving the lives of patients 323 times since 2003”.
Unlike whole blood donation, which can be done four-six times a year, platelet donations can be done up to 24 times a year.
The process entails the pumping out of blood from the donor’s body into a special machine, following which the platelets are segregated and the rest of the blood (plasma, red cells and white cells) is returned to the body. Platelets, which are tiny cells in the blood, form clots and stop bleeding. Their donation is most often used by cancer patients and others facing life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
Dr May Raouf, Director of Dubai Blood Donation Centre, said: “Platelet donors are eligible to donate blood every 15 days and platelets expire in five days. For 16 years, Gail D’Souza was a loyal donor and has regularly donated platelets. She has also encouraged her family members and her friends to donate blood. Her son is also a regular donor now. She has such a pleasant personality and is loved by all employees of DBDC. She has saved so many lives through this humanitarian and noble cause. We are deeply grateful to her for her dedication and loyalty.”
‘Just a routine’
Asked what motivated her to make blood donation a mission almost, D’Souza said matter-of-factly: “Well, it just became a routine.”
A mum of two grown up boys, she said she first understood the importance of blood donation when she was pregnant with her elder son. “I was in the fifth month of my pregnancy in 1992 when I began to bleed and had to be rushed to hospital. That’s when I discovered I belonged to the ‘O Negative’ blood type. I needed two bottles of blood at the time and some angel who provided the required blood saved my son’s life.”
She said three years later, when a good friend was undergoing a bypass heart surgery, she decided to step in. “After that, I began donating blood every three months, but had to stop in 1997 when I got pregnant with my younger son.”
In 2003, when she was ready to resume her blood donations, she was urged to provide platelets to meet the demand. “I willingly agreed and would visit the blood donation centre every two weeks for this purpose.”
Passion and dedication
She said she would change two buses from her earlier home in Al Qusais to reach the centre for the process. “I would time it in such a way that I would be back home when the boys returned from school. They would wait for the lunch I would pack for them from the hospital canteen – usually chicken curry and rice – as I would not have time to cook on those days,” she said.
The passion and dedication with which D’Souza went about her donation was, however, abruptly cut short with the breast cancer diagnosis. Many ask her if she ever feels bitter about the fact that she had helped so many cancer patients, yet had to grapple with the disease herself. But every time, her answer is categorical ‘no’.
Approach to life
“I took it very well. I never asked, why me? I am a strong person and have deep faith in God,” she said.
D’Souza believes her approach to life helped her cope with her situation. “I was in the best of hands and did not react too badly even to my chemotherapy sessions. My family was very supportive and I received blessings from friends and even strangers from all over the world. It was very touching and helped me recover speedily.”
She said Dubai has been particularly good to her and she feels blessed to be living in this city. “I am often told I helped save many lives by donating blood 323 times. But let’s not forget, God saved my life too, and I am truly grateful,” she said.