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World Blood Donor Day celebrates 110,000 NZ donors

An enthusiastic donor, Tauranga's Ford Saunders has been donating blood and plasma since he was 17. One of his donations has the potential to save up to three lives. Photo: Supplied

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Ford Saunders is just one of 110,000 blood donors in NZ who will be celebrating World Blood Donor Day on Sunday.

"I started donating blood when I was in high school because they would come and see us," says Ford Saunders who donated his first unit of blood in 2005 at Waitakere College.

Tomorrow, Sunday June 14 is World Blood Donor Day, and the New Zealand Blood Service – NZBS - is asking all New Zealanders to take time to say ‘thank you’ to the country’s 110,000 blood donors.

Every whole blood donation has the potential to save up to three lives, but red blood cells only have a shelf life of 35 days, and platelets which are important for helping stop bleeding, need to be transfused within seven days.

“Every 18 minutes somewhere in New Zealand someone needs lifesaving blood or plasma,” says NZBS National Manager Marketing and Communications Asuka Burge. “We have so much to be thankful for in New Zealand.

“Imagine going through a traumatic event resulting in life or death injuries or discovering you have a life-threatening illness that will require blood and blood products as a key part of your treatment. Then imagine having to wonder if the blood or plasma will actually be available when you need it. Thankfully, we never have to worry about this thanks to our amazing community of blood donors.”

Ford Saunders donating plasma at the Tauranga blood transfusion centre

After moving to Tauranga Ford continued donating blood and then started donating plasma in 2017.

"I was working just down the road from the blood donor place on Cameron Rd. On the days when I finished early I could shoot down to the donor centre and get the last slot of the day," says Ford.

"I donated blood there once and then talked to them about the plasma donation, because I asked what did they need more of and what was more useful. They said they could use the plasma for a wider variety of things, plus I could donate that fortnightly, whereas blood donation is longer than that."

He has continued on donating plasma, in between having two children and becoming a full time dad.

June 14 is the birthday of Karl Landsteiner, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the ABO blood group system.

Of the 110,000 blood donors in New Zealand, 11,000 are plasma donors. To keep up with demand NZBS needs to double the plasma donor registry and collect over 3,500 donations every week to meet demand.

The past 15-months have been a challenging time for New Zealand from the Christchurch Mosque attacks, to the Whakaari /White Island eruption and now COVID-19, but throughout it all New Zealand’s blood donors have ensured that blood and blood products have been available to help save lives.

“Blood donors make up less than 4 per cent of the eligible population but provide an essential service that plays a vital role in the health of our nation,” says Asuka. “Our donors tell us they donate because they feel it is important to do their bit, but they probably don’t realise they are the silent heroes behind some of New Zealand’s most challenging recent events.”

“Following the Christchurch mosque attacks in March 2019, 520 units of red cells, platelets, cryoprecipitate and fresh frozen plasma went directly to help save lives. In the aftermath of the Whakaari eruption, blood and blood products made up of donations from 751 donors were used to help save 12 critically injured patients.

“And through the COVID-19 lockdown our donor centres remained full. An amazing 15,300 Kiwis put aside personal anxiety and put their faith in our service to ensure blood was available whenever and wherever it was needed. Blood donors save lives."

Warren Stent made his 150th donation of blood during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: NZ Blood

Those interested in becoming a blood donor should download the app, visit nzblood.co.nz or call 0800 448 325 (0800 GIVE BLOOD) and book an appointment to donate.

There is no substitute to blood. Blood donors save lives.

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