Forget bananas and oranges, Australia needlessly imports a much more precious commodity and we have the power to stop it.
One in three Australians will need a blood transfusion in their lifetime yet only one in thirty Australians donates blood – for the rest we look to the world to save our lives.
One man has been giving blood for all the wrong reasons for 50 years – that’s 150 donations and 75 litres of blood – all of his blood 12 times over.
Koonorigan local Michael Smith first gave blood in 1968 when he was just 17. At the time he was too young and the Blood Bank asked him if he had his parents permission. Smith thought about it for a few seconds then said yes.
It was when he was at uni that he was first prompted to give blood. ‘My girlfriend announced to me that she had just donated a pint of blood’, says Michael. ‘That sounded scary. My testosterone kicked in. The challenge was there. I was a competitive bastard, I had to at least match it.
Another ‘wrong’ reason
‘It looked good on your résumé, especially if you were a school kid and you hadn’t done anything in your life. When I went for scholarships and jobs, that was one of the things that would stand out because not many people did it when they were that young.’
Michael says things were a little different back then. The Blood Bank came occasionally and set up a mobile collection facility in a room for a day. ‘Just a look-in would send a chill through you. Imagine a M.A.S.H. hospital, canvas collapsible stretchers groaning with reclining people undergoing unspeakable procedures.
‘I did the deed for all the wrong reasons and was given a card with the date of my donation written on it. The card had many more rows and many more pages to fill. My future was mapped out.’
Michael says that a decade later he had two reasons to visit the hospital on the same day, his wife had just had their first baby and he was invited to a celebration downstairs for the Blood Bank to honour its regular donors.
‘I was in the first batch and got my ‘25 donor’ badge. Another largish group got their ‘50 donor’ badge. The room was getting quiet. A small number are called to collect their ‘75 donor’ badges. Then the unthinkable happened – One or two people have given 100 donations! They looked old to me. They were cheered as heroes. It barely seemed possible to me. You could only donate four times a year.
‘There was a place in my head where I kept my ambitions and dreams. Getting a ‘100 donor’ badge was put there, next to finding Lassetters Reef and photographing the Tassie Tiger.’
The 150 milestone
Fourteen years after that hundredth donation milestone, Smith is still donating and on Tuesday he really did give blood for the last time – sort of. Michael has not completely cut ties with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Being an A- he is one of about six percent of the population with this blood type and has said that if there is a desperate need, he would return for cameos and chocolates at the Bounty Street donation centre in Lismore.
Statistically, there are 450 people walking the planet because of Michael’s bloody generosity. Every whole blood donation the blood bank receives (an average of 470ml) is separated into its three components – red cells, plasma and platelets – and they go to three different people. Three people get to stay alive because of this one gesture.
Michael says the staff at the donations centres all have something in common. ‘One thing I’d like to say about the nurses, and I’ve seen a lot of them in many places – I’ve given blood in Sydney, Tamworth, Darwin, Port Stephens and Newcastle and many other places – they are always really nice.
‘When you are done here they sit you down and offer you all kinds of things to eat and drink. This is the only place in my life where it’s ok to have a milkshake and a Mars Bar, ‘cause a bloke of my age shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing.’
Michael jokes that he actually gave blood for all the wrong reasons. ‘For me it was a little beacon for all the ladies in the room. It told them, if they need to know, that I don’t have AIDS, syphilis or hepatitis.’
Why did he actually do it? ‘They say I’ve saved a lot of lives so I guess that’s why anyone does it.’