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Blood Donation Stories: Sisters Helping Sisters Survive and Thrive

Melissa and Ann donated blood together like they often do at San Diego Blood Bank. One donation day, they met San Diego Blood Bank’s Quality Control Lab Supervisor, Josephine, and her sister, Tosin, who lives with Sickle Cell Disease and is an advocate and founder of Sickle Cell Warriors, Inc. Tosin's sickle cell diagnosis is part of the reason Josephine works at San Diego Blood Bank.

Being sisters themselves, Melissa and Ann were especially touched by Josephine and Tosin's story and the opportunity to meet a blood recipient whose life has been saved by blood donations like theirs.

Photo: Blood donors and sisters, Melissa and Ann, share a moment with sisters, Tosin and Jojo Ola, SDBB Quality Control Lab Supervisor

We sat down with Melissa, Ann and Tosin to learn more:

When did you start donating blood?

Melissa: I’ve donated since I was in my 20s. So that’s 50 years.

Ann: That’s a long time. Me too.

When did you start donating blood together?

Ann: A couple years ago, maybe three years ago.

Melissa: Maybe when I retired? Probably 4 or 5 years ago, then. We were donating separately, and then she retired and I was already retired—but we still didn’t get to see each other too often. So we said let’s go out to lunch, or let’s go shopping, or let’s do something and also donate blood. So that way we would be doing a good thing and we would also have social time together.

What is your favorite thing to do before donating blood?

Ann: Go to Coronado.

Melissa: That’s our hometown.

So you go there and lay on the beach?

Melissa: No, we’d probably walk or go to the park or the library.

How did you meet Josephine and Tosin?

Ann: I got here first that day and I was waiting out front for Melissa to come, and the sister that doesn’t work here that has Sickle Cell Anemia was out there waiting for her sister who works here. So we just kinda started taking...

Tosin: I got off the Uber and was waiting outside SDBB for Josephine. That was where I ran into Ann. She was there first. We made eye contact, and smiled at each other. Polite chitchat and we both realized we were both there to meet with our sisters! I got excited and Ann shared that she and her sister donate whenever they can as a way to see each other, keep in touch, give back and then they have lunch. I thanked her for her donation. Like...personally. She was stunned at first.

Melissa: And then I got here!

Ann: And then you got here... And then Josephine came down from work and so we were all talking and hugging.

Melissa: The sister with Sickle Cell Disease was just so grateful and just kept thanking us for giving blood because she has to get transfused every 3 weeks or so. They take out her blood and give her all new blood to keep her healthy.

Ann: So she told us about that and then she just kept saying, “thank you!” And we were like, “It’s okay, it’s okay” but she was very appreciative.

Melissa: She was so appreciative!

Tosin: I told them I was a recipient and thanked them for saving my life. I shared my story, that I have Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), my bone marrow makes defective red blood cells that are sticky, damage my organs and cause excruciating pain. It's a lifelong condition that I inherited—a mutation to prevent death from malaria. SCD is endemic in areas where malaria has prevalence. I'm 38, it's chronic and I require transfusions to keep my organs healthy. I get transfused via apheresis—six units every three weeks. Without blood, I'm in bed and can't get out of bed, nor be with my twin sons or live my life. Once I get an transfusion, I have two to three good weeks feeling like a normal person. So I was just so happy to meet a real life [blood] donor. We connected, and the moment was shared. 

Ann: And even though you read the stories in the newsletter or emails, you don’t meet those people, but this lady we met. And it was really personal.

Melissa: Both those sisters were great.

As you already know, when you donate blood you can save up to three lives with your donation, but what does donating blood do for you?

Melissa: It makes me feel great. It makes me feel like I’m giving something back to humanity. Giving something back to people—doing something worthwhile.

Ann: They have blood drives at my church—two or three times a year. But of course, I’d rather come here with my sister!

Melissa: I think it’s saving a life, actually—I mean that’s big!

Do you know how many gallons of blood you have donated?

Ann: 16 or more [gallons].

Melissa: Almost 11 [gallons].

Do you have a favorite memory of donating blood?

Melissa: I loved getting all the free T-shirts and tickets to the Padres games.

Ann: Also, can I say something about your employees? Everybody is always very, very friendly, very nice, very welcoming, appreciative. “Is there anything I can do for you?” They always thank us several times. And there’s one employee, I think her name is Tina, and she remembers my name when I come, which is kind of nice. She’s just very sweet and nice and I like her a lot. And the volunteers you have in the cantina…

Melissa: They’re all cool.

Ann: They’re all very nice. It makes a big difference, you know?

Melissa: Yeah, you feel appreciated when you come here. You feel welcome.

Photo: Melissa and Ann smile at each other while sitting on a bench outside of SDBB's Gateway Headquarters

Published 9/9/2019 / Updated 6/16/2022