‘Our sons are alive thanks to blood donors’
A single blood donation can save up to three lives – so why aren’t more of us doing it?
Simon and Jo Adam are eternally grateful to the generous donors who helped save their sons, James, four, and Charlie, one.
When they were born, both boys were affected by neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia – a rare blood-related disease that afflicts up to 155 Australian babies each year.
During both of Jo’s pregnancies, her body didn’t recognise her sons’ platelet antigens and subsequently treated them as foreign objects.
This produced an antibody “attack” on the babies in utero, causing her sons to have an incredibly low number of platelets.
Low platelet counts can pose a major health risk, preventing blood from clotting with the added danger of serious internal bleeding, including in the brain.
When James was born, a blood test revealed he was dangerously low in platelets.
He was rushed to the NICU and received six platelet transfusions and an infusion of immunoglobulin (created out of donated plasma), all of which helped stabilise his platelet levels back to a healthy range.
With the knowledge of her condition, Jo received weekly immunoglobulin infusions during her second pregnancy with Charlie to reduce the chance of an antibody “attack”.
Like James, Charlie was also born with a low platelet count, requiring platelet transfusions that helped get his levels back to a healthy level.
These days both boys are healthy and happy, with the experience driving their father to become an advocate for donations and regularly giving blood, plasma and platelets.
“Prior to having the boys, I already donated blood because I feel like it was the right thing to do considering I was healthy and able to do so,” says Simon.
“After the birth of my sons and the ordeal they went through, it really honed in the sheer gravity of blood donation and its ability to save lives.
“Donations are the reason my boys are alive and well today.
“It’s such a simple, easy and painless process to donate and the knowledge that you’re helping others, potentially saving multiple lives in the process, is indispensable.”
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Why blood donations are so important
A third of us will receive a blood or blood product donation at some point in our lives.
Yet despite so many of us relying on blood donations, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service says only 3 per cent of Aussies donate blood each year.
With demand for blood and blood products predicted to double in the next decade, Australians are being encouraged to get more proactive about donations this World Blood Donor Day (June 14).
Donations of more rare blood groups are vital, since they run in shorter supply.
The least common ABO blood types are AB-positive, AB-negative, B-negative and A-negative.
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How to know if you’re eligible to donate blood
The most important factors for eligibility are that you’re healthy, 18 to 70 years of age and weigh more than 50kg.
The next step is to take the eligibility quiz as additional lifestyle and health factors (such as being recently ill, having an autoimmune condition or chronic fatigue syndrome, among others) might reduce your ability to donate blood.
How blood donations are used
Blood can be used in 22 different types, of medical treatments, with more than a third of donations used for cancer and blood disease patients.
It might also be used for patients who suffer significant blood loss through trauma like a road accident, or those with who need specific blood products like red blood cells or plasma.
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Top tips for blood donation
First, make an appointment at your local blood donor centre.
On the day of your donation appointment, there are a few steps you should take before and after donating:
- If you’re donating blood, drink two glasses of water (500ml) once you’ve arrived at the donation centre. For a plasma or platelet donation, drink three large glasses of water (750ml) before donating.
- Eat something savoury or salty before your donation.
- While you wait to donate, there’s a few simple exercises you can do to ease muscle tension, such as crossing your legs, squeezing your inner thigh and abdominal muscles and stretching your ankles.
- Within the first hour after donating, it’s recommended that you drink another two glasses of water. Eat regularly and drink another three glasses of water over the following three hours.
- Avoid rushing around on your feet, standing up for long periods, drinking alcohol, strenuous activities and hot showers in the six hours after donating.
- If you feel unwell after donating, lie or sit down and repeat the muscle-tensing exercises outlined above.
Watch Luke Darcy head to Australia’s Red Cross Blood Service to donate his own blood on The House of Wellness TV show.
Written by Charlotte Brundrett.