Riya Gupta started ‘Blood Donor Connect’, a group which directs donors to patients, in particular those with Thalassemia and blood cancer.

Riya Gupta in a blue saree Image courtesy: Riya Gupta/Instagram
news Blood donation Thursday, May 27, 2021 - 12:17

When the second wave hit Chennai, 20-year-old Riya Gupta, a medical student and Instagram micro-influencer, decided to do her bit to help. She directed scores of bed and oxygen cylinder requests to volunteers and NGOs and helped amplify demand for medicines. But with one specific type of request, she hit a roadblock. 

“These were requests for blood for non-COVID cases. I was getting requests for accident cases, transfusion patients and even for two-month-old babies with Thalassemia and blood cancer. They weren’t getting blood due to a shortage in the city,” Riya, a third-year MBBS student at Chettinad Academy of Research and Education, explains. 

Riya called up blood banks and big hospital chains in Chennai, and all of them confirmed that their usual pool of donors did not lend blood during the pandemic. “I realised how serious this was when big hospital chains in Chennai said that they had shortage of blood. People simply did not want to risk travelling to hospitals or banks for fear of getting COVID-19,” she says. 

The 20-year-old tried to fix this problem by utilising her network. She first put out feelers on her family and friend groups.  “When I suggested donating to blood banks, most people were reluctant. But I realised that when I put out details of a specific patient, more people came forward to donate. When you know who you are donating blood to, there is sort of a personal bond which motivates people,” she says.

Using this observation, Riya and her friend started identifying donors and connecting specific patients to them. “We told them about a particular patient and why they needed blood. If the potential donor agreed, then we asked them to fill a form,” she says. 

Some of the donors were able to speak to the family of patients, follow up with them on the surgery etc, which made the donors happy.  Riya later realised that her donor pool increased via word of mouth, after those who gave blood told their family and friends, some of whom came forward to give blood. 

Using Tinder to scout for donors 

The 20-year-old and her friends also made good use of online dating app Tinder, from where they have now got 100 donors. 

“All I did was put out a line on my bio about the donation drive, without expecting a single person to reply. But we ended up with hundred plus donors filling out the form,” she says. 

In a month-and-a-half, Riya’s group has expanded to include 15 friends and volunteers, most of whom are medical students. Blood Donor Connect is their Instagram page through which they take blood requests and connect patients to donors. They also put out useful information about who can and cannot donate blood 

The members work 24 hours in shifts to address urgent blood requests. They also take care of donors’ travel and logistics when they go to give blood. 

“We have many donors who don’t want to go to a specific location to give blood. So we carefully started connecting donors to patients near to them. We even arrange cab or car transport and apply for an e-pass for these donors to make it as comfortable as possible for them,” she says. 

Rare blood group 

The group heavily focuses on donating blood to children with Thalassemia and blood cancer, who regularly need blood. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that causes your body to have less hemoglobin than normal. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen.

“We send our donors to the Institute of Children’s Health, which is attached to the Maternity Hospital, a government hospital in Egmore. There are two-month-old and nine-month-old babies with blood cancer and Thalassemia and the parents of these children put out requests. These requests come to us before they do the rounds as we are connected with NGOs and volunteers working to amplify requests,” Riya says. 

To date, the group has helped 275 patients receive blood in Chennai. One time, the group was able to arrange for an urgent request for a rare blood group within 30 seconds. “The patient had undergone a C-section with lots of blood loss. Her brother searched everywhere for AB negative but could not find it in Chennai. The request finally came to us and luckily we had a donor who agreed to give blood immediately,” says Nithya Shri, another member of Blood Donor Connect who works with Riya. 

Dos and Don’ts of donating blood 

A National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 shared recommendations to the Union Health Ministry on eligibility criteria for donating blood. 

An individual can donate blood after 14 days of either receipt of COVID-19 vaccine or testing RT-PCR negative, if suffering from COVID-19 disease, according to NEGVAC’s recommendations. The recommendations have been accepted by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Register at linktr.ee/Blooddonorconnect if you want to be a donor with Blood Donor Connect.