It all started in 2009 when I, a young, recently graduated veterinarian, worked in an emergency department for dogs and cats at a referral hospital in Porto. I soon understood the difficulties that the veterinary team faced when performing transfusions, as there were no units of blood readily available when needed. Whenever a patient required a transfusion, it was essential to immediately contact a registered donor and perform an emergency blood donation. These donations were often rushed, with a reception full of patients waiting for appointments. Subsequently, this left no time to carry out crucial blood tests, such as compatibility or infectious disease profile. Normally, hours passed by before finally performing the transfusion.
The existing difficulties often postponed transfusion decisions and sadly, few animals ended up benefiting from this treatment aid. Veterinarians, including myself, did the best they could do with the little available means.
It was in these circumstances that I, Rui Ferreira, a young veterinarian at the time, was encouraged to establish a Veterinary Blood Bank, who would help ensure units of blood are readily available. I visualised a suitable group of donors, and including the fundamental testing such as: crossmatching, basic blood profile and infectious screening.
Research was carried out and intense studying proceeded, mostly of existing human medicine and human blood banks to understand and ensure best practice was carried out in every aspect. Meanwhile, equipment was purchased, and rooms were prepared for donations.
This endeavour was quickly recognised by local veterinarians who began to contact us in critical situations to help them by sending blood units. As word of mouth spread, the demand for blood products increased nationally. I soon realised that The Animal Blood Bank would have to expand to sustain the demand for blood products and to help all the animals who needed it.
The next phase of the program included the support of ICBAS – University of Porto in 2008, who approved a PhD studying Transfusion Medicine. This helped to develop overall knowledge in donor safety and also adapting the separation techniques of blood components used in human haemotherapy to dogs and cats. Additionally, in 2011 they also provided a fantastic workplace and technical means to cultivate one of the most specialised veterinary blood banks in the world. Thus began our odyssey…
Originally, the BSA team comprised of two members of staff, however the team gradually grew to ensure blood products could reach veterinary practices efficiently.
We started to develop an IT platform that would allow us to record all the fundamental information needed for full traceability of blood units and their donors.
Our main aim is to ensure fast access to blood components to help all animals in need. Consequently, we implemented an efficient procedure when distributing blood units, making prompt blood transfusions achievable for veterinary practices in any part of the country.
The continuous desire to prosper and encourage the desire to study, research and broaden veterinary knowledge in transfusion medicine was essential to BSA. Thus, several scientific articles were published by the BSA team, creating great acknowledgement and strong rapports with several universities.
Resulting in inviting the Autonomous University of Barcelona to develop a partnership that would culminate in the creation of the Banco de Sangre Animal in Barcelona within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This was the first step towards the internationalization of the BSA; which then allowed us to take our knowledge, experience, and organisation to several countries, allowing us to increase the number of animals that benefited from advanced transfusion medicine, and permitting full accessibility to all. This was a new challenge, which also revolutionized access to transfusions in Spain. With a dedicated, specialised team and the exceptional help of Doctor Ignacio Mesa, PhD, specialist in Internal Medicine and founding partner of BSA in Spain, growth was immediate, and more and more donors were joining to help in this cause.
Throughout the pandemic, BSA were once again called upon in times of need. With the successive confinements, the strict contingency plans and the shortcomings in human resources, our teams had to overcome these challenges to guarantee the fulfilment of donations and the maintenance of sufficient stock levels.
More recently, in 2022, we established a third BSA unit in Belgium - Animal Blood Bank Benelux. Once again, the growing international recognition of our efforts and dedication materialised into a partnership with the University of Liége, where the new BSA unit will be installed, in the centre of Europe. It is another platform to help reinforce our role in Veterinary Transfusion Medicine as a fundamental reference throughout the world.
Our efforts will continue to grow. Our main ambition is to improve and to guarantee safe blood transfusions whenever they are needed. We believe that our dogs and cats deserve the best, because we love them as part of the family; therefore, we believe it is our responsibility to take care of them and to dedicate our lives to their health and well-being… the lives we help save fuel our strength and determination every day, demonstrating why BSA are so passionate in transfusion medicine.
It will be a pleasure and an honour to continue to help you as best we can.