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Tattoos and transplants

opinion / Columnists
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At Large

Tattoos and transplants

/ 05:07 AM September 12, 2017

I was carrying out my duties as a “watcher” for my husband who had just had open-heart surgery some time ago when I overheard a startling bit of information.

Walking along the corridor of the Philippine Heart Center was a young woman and a passel of young men, and judging from the guys’ outfits it was clear they weren’t clean-cut college boys or yuppie employees. “Darn those tattoos!” the young woman railed at her companions. “Tatay is near death and none of you can donate blood because you all have tattoos!”

When I asked my brother-in-law, a surgeon, what the problem with tattoos and blood donation was, he said the Red Cross, which demands blood donations from the family of a recipient, won’t accept as a donor anyone with a tattoo. Aside from the potential risk of infection, he said, tattoos are often taken as a “marker” for risky behavior, such as alcoholism, drug use and sexually transmitted diseases. But now, I’m told, donors with tattoos are allowed to donate blood as long as enough time has elapsed between the time they got “inked” and the time they donate.

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Body art is a “hot” topic these days mainly because of the demand made by Sen. Sonny Trillanes that Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo “Pulong” Duterte, a son of President Duterte, reveal a supposed tattoo on his back. Linking Pulong and his brother-in-law to the “Davao Group” linked to drug smuggling, Trillanes described the tattoo as “dragon shaped” and similar to the tattoos of members of a Chinese triad. Trillanes claims that the mere appearance of the tattoo would serve as “proof” of the vice mayor’s involvement with Chinese drug syndicates.

Following this “tat” controversy, netizens have gone online with displays of their own tattoos. Some have done so to goad the young Duterte into revealing his back tattoo. Others use the display of tattoos to remove the stigma of bearing body art, claiming that getting inked is not necessarily a sign of criminality or degenerate behavior — even if the most common “introduction” to tattoos is by way of a stint in prison where tattoos serve as symbols of affiliation with any of a number of gangs aspiring for control in and out of prison.

Indeed, the public image of tattoos — or, rather, people bearing tattoos — has undergone a bit of rehabilitation since I learned of the link between tattoos and blood donation that morning more than 20 years ago.

Folks today think nothing of showing off their tattoos, the more elaborate and colorful, the better. Coming to mind is Jaime Dempsey, the effervescent host of the show “Ride N’ Seek” on the History channel, whose body is almost entirely covered in multicolored tats, including one she got from a “traditional” tattoo artist in the Philippine highlands.

Me, I can’t envision myself getting a tattoo without wincing at the imagined pain. Much less being taken for a Chinese triad leader, should you make the mistake of pointing to the wrong tattoo design.

Speaking of organ donation (blood can be considered a body organ, right?), my eye was drawn to a Yahoo story recently about Jemima Layzell, who died in 2012 of a brain aneurysm at the age of 13. Jemima’s story is made even more compelling by the fact that because of her, eight different people got to live new lives. Jemima is the only recorded donor in the United Kingdom whose solid organs have been transplanted to eight recipients. A typical donation, the story said, usually results in 2.6 transplants.

Eight recipients may not sound like a big number, but it means eight lives extended and enriched by this family’s decision.

The decision to donate, said Jemima’s mother, was made just a few weeks after she discussed organ donation with her daughter. Doctors harvested Jemima’s heart, small bowel, pancreas, both kidneys, both lungs, and her liver, which was split and transplanted to two people.

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I sit here in awe of the immensity of Jemima’s gift and legacy, and the bigness of heart and spirit that it took for her family to share her with so many people. Good thing she didn’t have a tattoo — or at least the story didn’t say anything about it.

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TAGS: At Large, organ donation, Rina Jimenez-David, tattoos, transplants. blood donation
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