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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Mail Bag

Letter to the Editor: Drawing kindness

The following is a continuation of running guest essays by faculty members for UH’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. this week. Essays will run all week.

—The Daily Cougar editorial board

As we commemorate Martin Luther King’s life, we should remember the ideas that underlie his message: that all of us, irrespective of our race, are brother and sister; that each of us has an obligation to dedicate our lives to something larger than ourselves. Years ago, I started donating blood every eight weeks to the point that it has become an essential part of my routine.

Ironically, one of the times I experienced discrimination in a classroom, it was because of my blood.  As part of a lesson on blood types, my chemistry teacher distributed kits to allow students to determine their own type. The test revealed that my blood is O-negative, but the teacher gave me an “F.”  She claimed that since she had never had a student of that blood type, I must have made a mistake. In fact, I do have O-negative blood. This blood type isn’t all that rare; it is found in about 6.6 percent of the population of the U.S.

I hadn’t thought about the importance of blood types until 1999 when I needed a transfusion. People with O-negative blood are universal donors — anyone can receive our blood; however, we can only be given O-negative. There was none available when I needed it. Other hospitals would only release some of their reserves if I were to die without the transfusion. Without the blood, I was told my recovery period would last nine months to a year. That prognosis was correct. It was a week before I could even stand by myself, and for months I felt like a pale shadow of myself. I don’t want anyone else to ever have to suffer as I did if there is anything I can do to prevent it.

The benefit of giving blood is not only for those who receive my blood but for myself as well. When my father was dying of cancer, he received platelets. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, I had a few extra conversations with my father. All of us carry debts we must strive to repay. Every day, I drive through the medical center on my way to campus, right by the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and Children’s Memorial Hermann, where 10 years ago, the doctors saved my infant son’s life. I think of all the patients inside, as well as all the daughters and mothers sitting helplessly by their bedsides, as I once did. I can’t think of a better way to be connected to my community.

Given the diversity of Houston’s population and that O-negative blood is what is used in emergency rooms when there is no time to determine the patient’s own type, it is likely that people of every ethnicity and age group have received my blood. While there are important differences in rates of violent crime among people of different races, tragedy really does not discriminate. Donating blood allows me to help others in the direst moments of their lives. It reminds me that regardless of the color of our skin, the same red fluid runs through our veins.

— Maria Soliño is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

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