Blood donors: As altruistic as mother pelicans

November 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm

By Dayna Kerecman Myers 

Sanquin Blood Supply, the only organization authorized to manage blood donation in the Netherlands, chose a pelican with a drop of blood on its chest for its logo. The pelican symbolizes the altruism of blood donors, referring to the legend of the Dalmatian pelican, said to have fed her starving young with her own blood.

A Sanquin Blood Supply plush pelican for milestone blood donors (Photo by Candice Lim)

A Sanquin Blood Supply plush pelican for milestone blood donors (Photo by Candice Lim)

Generous blood donors help save lives, just as the mother pelican was thought to have saved her offspring with her sacrifice (the pouch of the Dalmatian pelican turns red turning the breeding season, persuading onlookers that they are seeing blood).

The altruistic spirit captured in Sanquin’s logo reflects the Dutch emphasis on voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors — very similar to the guidelines in America that Stanford Blood Center follows. Volunteer blood donors are considered essential to ensuring the safety of the blood supply, and the World Health Organization has launched an international mission to encourage all countries to adopt this principle.

At Stanford Blood Center, we have learned that most of our donors donate for altruistic reasons (well, and perhaps our POG juice). This is true in the Netherlands as well. In fact, Dutch blood donors do not receive any promotions, aside from simple milestone rewards like a plush pelican, or a pelican pin.

Irish blood donor pin

Irish blood donor pin (Photo by Badge Collector’s Circle, UK)

Many other European countries adhere to a similar philosophy; the Irish blood service also features a pelican logo and gives pelican pins to reward milestone donors. Earning your “golden pelican pin” from the Irish Blood Transfusion Board is an honor sometimes mentioned in obituaries.

While the emphasis on voluntary blood donors is a very familiar concept to American blood donors, the path to becoming a blood donor is a little different in the Netherlands. Donors must apply in advance, and wait several weeks to be called in for an evaluation. If they are accepted, they are offered an appointment slot, usually a few weeks in the future.

In the Netherlands, being accepted as a blood donor is often seen as a civic honor, and it is sometimes adopted as a family tradition. We see this at SBC, also. We are fortunate that we have dedicated donors who have made donating regularly a part of their lifestyle simply because they know there are people who need their help.

Still, there are about 465,000 blood donors in the Netherlands — which is under three percent of the population, similar to the percentage of donors here in the Bay Area. Just like our colleagues in the Netherlands, we’re motivated by the awareness that we need to encourage more people to donate. We especially need to encourage young donors to start donating, and new donors to become regular donors. We’re grateful to all of our donors and partners who help share this knowledge — driven by the simple rewards of altruism.