Helping others is in Duncan's blood

DUNCAN RAYMONT, of Eltham, has been giving blood for 39 years and says it's the best deal around.

“All I do is come in to the Lismore Blood Bank and they give me a free health check and ask some questions about my lifestyle. Then I lie down and get plugged in and relax. And afterwards I get fed and watered. All the staff here are wonderful, you are made to feel really special and you're doing something worthwhile.”

Duncan's first visit to a blood bank was as a young engineering student.

“In those days I decided to keep giving blood as a sort of insurance policy - I was on the road a lot and figured I might need it myself. And now it's a way of life. The staff here work the magic and I just grow the blood.”

Recently, Mr Raymont became a milestone donor, giving his 175th blood donation. As well as donating whole blood every three months, he is one of an increasing number of donors who also give plasma fortnightly.

When the blood bank calls for donors before a long weekend, most people think about patients needing blood transfusions after an accident. But the blood products gathered by the Australian Red Cross blood banks are used for a range of purposes.

Blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets suspended in plasma - a fluid containing proteins, nutrients and clotting factors. An average adult has about five litres of blood, three litres of which is plasma.

A total of 13 different products can be made from plasma, many of which are used to keep people with chronic blood diseases alive. Blood products are also used for unborn babies, cancer patients and third degree burn victims.

Next week is National Blood Donor Week, which celebrates the significant contribution that Australia's voluntary donors make to the community. One-in-three Australians will need blood during their lifetime, and yet just one-in-30 give blood. Every week around 21,000 blood donations are needed.

Australia has one of the safest blood supply systems in the world, partly due to the eligibility regulations.

Lee Harley, marketing director for Lismore's Australian Red Cross Blood Service, said this ensured the procedure was as safe as possible for the donor and the recipients. She said often people only came in to give blood once or twice a year.

“They are allowed to give blood every 12 weeks, so even if those people alone came more frequently our blood stocks would be greatly increased,” she said.

At the moment blood stocks are 'dangerously low', due in part to late winter illness and regular donors not being able to come in.

“We really hope to build up our stocks before the October long weekend,” Ms Harley said.

“People expect blood to be available when they need it. And we really need to encourage more people to donate blood. I mean, imagine the reaction if a patient were brought into emergency and told they couldn't have a transfusion because there wasn't any blood left. They'd be outraged.”

The blood and plasma collected at the Lismore Blood Bank is refrigerated, packed and flown to Sydney daily, where the products are sent to a central storehouse and redistributed around New South Wales.

Ms Harley is quick to pay tribute to the dedicated local donor pool who regularly give blood and plasma.

“Over 70 donors in the region have reached milestone donations in the 12 months to July. This is a magnificent achievement,” she said

In order to boost donor numbers, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has come up with some innovative ways to encourage further support.

Mobile blood donor vans are being used throughout the villages of the Northern Rivers, and visits to service clubs are also paying dividends.

“Recently we had 56 people who gave blood at the Ballina RSL Club - a fantastic result,” Ms Harley said.

A newer initiative is the Club Red program with the slogan 'saving lives together'.

Club Red is a way for people in business, community and youth groups to get together and do something special by regularly donating blood.

The first business to join Club Red in the area was J H Williams and Sons Building Supplies in South Lismore.

Store manager Kieran O'Grady said 17 of his staff decided to join Club Red in May.

“Thanks to our employer, Bruce Williams, we're allowed to donate during work hours. Five of us climb into one of our utes and we go down to the blood bank in three lots. It would be hard to find the time otherwise, so we're grateful to have the opportunity,” he said.

Mr O'Grady said giving blood took just 40 minutes and was relatively painless.

“It's a little thing for us to do, but it makes such a difference to other people. We all felt we'd like to give something back to the community and I'd encourage other organisations to do it too.”

Another program, called the Vampire Shield, involves school students, and both Trinity College and Kadina High School were recent winners of the Vampire Shield for their participation in donating blood.

One of the biggest obstacles to increasing the donor pool involves misconceptions about who can give blood.

Ms Harley said the donor guidelines changed from time-to-time and many people who were previously asked to defer giving blood would now be free to do so.

“For instance, people who've had a tattoo can give blood again after 12 months, as long as they're the right age, the correct weight and in good health.

“However, we'd ask anyone who's not sure to phone us on 13 14 95.”

WHAT YOUR BLOOD CAN DO:

  • SEVENTY FIVE-year-old Jim Robertson, of Alstonville, was diagnosed with blood disease myeloid dysplasia two years ago and it has now turned into a form of leukaemia - cancer of the bone marrow.

Two or three times a week, Jim's wife, Dell, , brings him to the Lismore Cancer Care and Haematology Unit for blood transfusions, platelets and blood matching.

“Unfortunately, there's no other treatment available for Jim so the best they can do is to give him blood and platelets regularly. The blood helps his energy levels and the platelets stop him bleeding,” Mrs Robertson explained.

She and her husband are tremendously grateful for the donors giving Mr Robertson some quality of life. Without his regular transfusions, Mr Robertson would not have survived. “There are so many life-saving products that can be taken from blood. I really want to recommend that anyone who can give blood do so,” Mrs Robertson said.

SPECIAL VOLUNTEER:

  • HELEN WYND, of Goonellabah, has been a Red Cross volunteer for 70 years. These days she works three days a week at Lismore's blood donor centre supporting staff and those who come in to donate.

“These wonderful people come in especially to give blood and the least we can do is make their time here pleasant with a cup of tea and a chat,” she said.



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