Lebohang Lebogo will be the first drone pilot for the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), delivering emergency blood to remote rural areas in the country whenever the need arises.
The 29-year-old from Kagiso, west of Johanneburg, will be manning the TRON Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which is a highly specialised aircraft that will be used to transport blood from blood banks to hospitals in areas that are not so easily reachable.
“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot but my parents could not afford to take me to aviation school. So my mom told me about an opportunity to work as a temp at the blood bank,” she said.
Lebogo, who is the daughter of a nurse and a mineworker, said she started at the SANBS in 2008 as a donor attendant while she was still a teenager.
“I would watch on the donors and get them juice after their donations,” she said.
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Although she enjoyed her job, Lebogo said she eventually went to study international travel at College Campus before going back to the SANBS to train as a medical technician in 2011.
She told Sowetan that she went through a training programme for two years before she was hired permanently.
The dream to become a pilot never dissipated and she decided to put herself through school to achieve her goals.
“Right now I have my student licence and I’m working towards getting my private licence,” she said.
“I get emotional when I think about how my dream is coming true. God knows how much I wanted this. I used to ask myself why this is taking so long, and now things are finally aligning.
“This has made me to work even harder for my licence.”
Dr Jonathan Louw, CEO of the SANBS, said the rollout of drone technology is part of the SANBS’ plan to use innovation to save lives.
“We believe that this is an innovative step in the history of blood transfer.
“SANBS is determined to improve rapid access to life-saving blood products in rural areas. Patients can receive emergency ‘O negative’ blood from one of our blood banks through the use of drones,” he said.
“The same drone can then take that patient’s blood sample to the blood bank for comprehensive cross-matching and rapidly deliver compatible blood back to the patient.”