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National Blood Donor Week 2020

First published in The West Australian on 15/06/2020

Shelly Park, Chief Executive, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood

Gratitude is an interesting concept. Medical experts around the world advocate practising it to improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress and enhance relationships.

At the beginning of 2020, I would have been hard pressed to imagine I could be more grateful to Australia’s half a million life giving blood donors. But it turns out that gratitude, much like love, doesn’t have a finite limit and the well does not run dry.

As we approach World Blood Donor Day on June 14, a day designed to remind us all that safe blood and blood products are indeed the lifeblood of an effective health system, I can’t help but reflect on the year that has been.

2020 has presented unprecedented challenges for us all, but our donors have displayed bravery, selflessness, compassion, patience, adaptability and a sense of community to ensure all Australians have continued to receive the blood products they need through this pandemic.

We’ve asked a lot from our donors this year. In March we asked for 14,000 Australians to roll up their sleeves in the lead-up to Easter to help prevent a potential blood shortage, as coronavirus restrictions took hold across the country. Despite the fact none of us knew what impact COVID-19 was going to have on Australia or the exact threat it posed, thousands of people braved the uncertainty to leave their homes for the essential service of blood and plasma donation. In fact, we saw our biggest response to a call out ever with collection records broken around the country.

As a result, we found ourselves in the unusual position of having to reschedule some donations and asking people to be patient as they tried to find available appointments. Thank you to our donors for their patience and understanding.

Things were changing in our Lifeblood Donor Centres too. Social distancing, ramping up of our already stringent cleaning regimes, and the introduction of added wellness checks meant wait times were sometimes longer. Our donors responded with good grace and humour.

Coronavirus has not stopped the need for blood and plasma. People have continued to be involved in road accidents, needing large volumes of blood for transfusions. Cancer patients have still needed support to survive their treatment, and women have continued to experience complications while giving birth. These are just some of the Australians who rely on the 29,000 donations needed every week across the nation.

As we move through this pandemic, I’d like to say a special thank you to the hundreds of donors who’ve recovered from COVID-19 and donated their plasma which contains precious anti bodies. This plasma will be used to treat patients in clinical trials, both as a form of direct treatment and as a medication called COVID-19 Immunoglobulin. We’re so proud to be able to support such important work through clinical trials, but couldn’t do it without our donors.

At Lifeblood, National Blood Donor Week and World Blood Donor Day are usually celebrated with thank you events around the country. But, just like the millions of Australians who have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions a little differently this year, we will be too. Although we can’t celebrate together, it doesn’t diminish the gratitude we feel towards each and every blood donor for giving life to our most vulnerable Australian patients.

I know the saying is ‘thanks a million’ but I’d like to up the stakes and say ‘thanks 1.5 million’ to reflect the number of donations we received last year from 500,000 donors.  I want to publicly thank them for their commitment to the health of the nation. Thank you for continuing to donate in the face of upheaval, for rolling up your sleeves even as you face uncertainty, and for keeping Australia’s lifeblood flowing.