By Jessica Lovell
There were admittedly a few tears, but mostly brave faces and smiles as kids filed into the front room at Guelph Community Christian School to have their blood taken on Valentine’s Day.
Clad in red – in honour of the holiday – the kids were the first children in Guelph to take part in CALIPER, a project aiming to create a database to be used by doctors to interpret common blood tests.
“When a kid comes in and they’re sick and we suspect that they have a certain cancer, we actually have a reference,” said project co-ordinator Sarah Delaney, explaining the idea behind the database.
The goal is to gather blood samples from healthy children, ages birth to 18, both male and female, from all different ethnic groups to try to create a database of “normal values” for certain things found in blood.
For each child, the whole process Thursday took less than 10 minutes.
At step one, the children sat down at a table to go over a brief questionnaire with one of the project assistants, asking them about their general health, the foods they eat, whether they’ve been sick or if they’re taking any medication.
At step two, their height, weight and waist measurements are taken.
Step three was the scary part – having the blood drawn. The kids were told that 15 millilitres would be taken, or about the amount that their cereal spoon holds.
“That’s a big part of it, to find a way to explain it to them in kid-friendly terms,” said project co-ordinator Victoria Bevilacqua.
Even adults may find the project challenging to understand. CALIPER, short for Canadian Laboratory Initiative on Paediatric Reference Intervals Database, is a project of the Pediatric Focus Group of the Canadian Society of Clinical Chemists. A team of investigators is leading the project, which first began in 2006, working with hospitals across the country, including hospitals in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Montreal, St. John’s, Saskatoon and Vancouver.
Though they collect health information from all the child participants, the database will be anonymous.
The blood is involved in about 100 different tests for things like iron, creatinine, different hormones and disease biomarkers. Doctors attempting to diagnose and treat sick children will be able to compare their blood with the data collected through the CALIPER project.
The team that visited Guelph was from SickKids, and much of the work they have done until now has focused on the Greater Toronto Area, but they are beginning to branch out to other communities.
The team approached the Christian school first, rather than the public or Catholic school boards, because it is usually a little easier to get permission to go into the school, but also because “they are interested in giving back,” said Delaney.
As they sat down to have their arms poked and two small vials of blood drawn, the kids were encouraged with words about how they were helping many other children.
They also got a little gift – their choice of a book, a T-shirt or a Teddy bear – to take home with them, and for added incentive, $10.
About 110 kids, more than half the school’s student population, took part in the project.
Principal Bob Moore did not hesitate to agree when he was asked if his school was interested in taking part.
“We want to make it clear to the community that we’re part of the community. We’re here to benefit the community,” said Moore.
Part of the school’s mission statement is to serve the community, he said. “This is a very tangible way that we can act out our mission statement.”