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Blood Donor, Lifesaver, Legend

Friday 1st Feb 2019

Robert, who hails from Bermagui, drives more than 7 hours each fortnight to give blood plasma at Garran Blood Donor Centre, completing a 530km commute of up Clyde and down Brown Mountain. Not fazed by kangaroos, wombats, fog, snow and ice in winter, Robert also encourages blood donations from his local swim club, the Bermagui Blue Balls. 

Robert recently gave his 700th donation, cementing his status as one of Canberra’s top blood donors, with only a dozen having ever reached such a high milestone.  

Robert became a blood donor in Sydney, and since moving to Bermagui in 2012, he’s made the trip to Canberra more than 127 times, clocking up 1000 hours to help save more than 2100 lives! Not only do we think Rob’s blood is worth bottling, we thought you might like to hear some of his incredible story. 

We asked him a few things about his career as a blood donor. 

Tell us about your first blood donation

My first donation was on 30 June, 1976. I know this because I still have my three 'Blood Donor Record Cards'. It took me nearly 9 weeks after turning 18 to get myself into Clarence Street (apologies for the delay). I donated whole blood for 10 years and then in 1986 was asked to join the plasma and platelets program.

My father had donated blood as a young man and while he never suggested that I donate, it just seemed the community thing to do. To be able to donate blood or blood products that assist others achieve a better quality of life is a simple decision...just stick out your arm and smile.

No doubt you’ve had some arduous and event-filled trips to the Garran Donor Centre over the years – tell us about one of the most interesting journeys

Most of the journeys to Canberra have at least half the distance travelling in the dark, or fog or both. Trying to keep marsupials out of the radiator grill is one of our primary objectives. 
About three years ago we were housing an Iraqi asylum seeker for 11 days. One day we took him to Canberra for a look-see. At one point of the journey he became quite animated as he had just seen a wombat ‘asleep’ on its back beside the road. We had to explain to him it was a bit of a permanent sleep. 

What’s the most rewarding thing about donating blood?

Knowing that your simple act of lying down and having a casual read for an hour might actually have a profound impact on someone else's wellbeing. 

That person could be anyone from across society, as illness does not discriminate. Despite the packaging, we all bleed and need blood. 

What would you say to someone contemplating becoming a blood donor?

My wife Elizabeth and I have donated together for 40 years so it can become a cheap date for those on a budget. We all know someone who has either received a whole blood transfusion or treatment containing blood products. 

Strange as it sounds, the tooth fairy does not bring blood, someone has to donate it. So roll up your sleeve and give it a go. With the extended operating hours of donor centres these days there will be an appointment time available for everyone, no matter how busy you claim to be.

What is your favourite post-donation snack in the donor centre cafe?

Annabel Crabb wrote that in her student days in Adelaide she'd donate blood to qualify for a sandwich and a stubbie of Coopers Stout. I've never seen Coopers on offer these days, so I'm content with vanilla milkshake, a couple of Jatz and a bit of cheese. This maintains my girlish figure and provides enough juice to get me through our errands around town, over to the Fyshwick fruit market and down to Bredbo for a late lunch.

Don’t stop there Robert, tell us how you really feel about this milestone

I've been fortunate to have met some wonderful, inspiring and entertaining people through donating blood. One of my strongest memories is early on in my plasma donating, when in those days the procedure took place in a small room away from the main whole blood donations. 

A fellow donor was a very mature, grey/white haired woman who told me she donated because she had 8 miscarriages associated with her RH negative status. She smiled and said, "We do important work here."

This lady was a true legend who masked her obvious heartbreak and pain with the knowledge her gift may help others. 

The Garran team is exactly the same as the Clarence St/Town Hall crew and no doubt every other blood donor centre around ‘Straya. I view them as family. They’re courteous, caring, compassionate, hard-working, and professional. Together we’re doing something important that helps the quality of life and perhaps sustains the actual life of people we will never meet or hear about. And despite all the seriousness, there is the occasional laugh as well.