15 June 2023

The lifeblood of the Illawarra roll up their sleeves and celebrate National Blood Donor Week

| Keeli Royle
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Barbara Street donating plasma at Wollongong Blood Donation Centre.

Barbara Street OAM has donated more than 600 times. Photo: Keeli Royle.

It’s a life-saving donation that doesn’t cost a cent and this week the Illawarra is celebrating the thousands of locals who roll up their sleeves and give back to the community.

Barbara Street has one of the most impressive records in the region – she’s donated more than 600 times.

“It’s such a valuable thing that you’re doing for the community to help people have better health and possibly even save lives,” Barbara said.

She first started donating in the 1970s at a mobile van in Oak Flats.

“In those days you just laid on a striped banana chair,” Barbara said. “And your refreshment was just a very, very watery orange juice and hard-boiled lollies.”

The options these days are much more gourmet. “I like the milkshakes here, I don’t buy a milkshake anywhere else, that’s my treat for coming to the blood bank.”

Barbara hopes that the next generation will get more involved. “It’s a shame more people don’t do it because as you get older you hope that there are younger ones coming through,” she said. “It’s such a terrific service and more people should be donating.”

She said she tries to encourage young people by supporting newcomers.

“I’m like the mother hen,” she said. “I see the little first-time sticker and I come over and chat to them.”

And she urged people to give blood donation another shot, even if they didn’t have the best first experience.

“Don’t just try it once, try it a couple of times to really be fair to the system,” Barbara said. “The first time is an unknown, the second time you’ve got an idea of what’s happening and the third time you’re starting to be an old hand at it so don’t just do the first one.”

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Fellow donor Michael Burns may not be matching Barbara’s record just yet, but he’s about to hit a major milestone at the blood bank.

At 29 years old, he’s already donated 98 times.

He started regularly donating while studying health science at university and enjoyed talking shop with the Lifeblood staff.

That team continues to be a driving part of what brings him back time and time again.

“It’s just a very friendly and supportive atmosphere,” Michael said. “That’s why I like it.”

Michael Burns prepares to give blood

Michael Burns preparing to make his 98th blood donation. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Michael said he just books his appointments online and the whole experience is fairly quick and easy. “I just listen to some music, watch some TV and decompress for 40 minutes while I donate plasma,” he said.

While Michael thrives going solo, a blood donation buddy can be helpful for people who need a bit more motivation.

Mother and daughter duo Kylie and Clara Swainson started donating together earlier this year when Clara turned 18. They help keep each other accountable and make sure they stick to their commitment.

“I like that we do something together,” Kylie said. “She’s an encouragement because it’s easy to let it slide so doing it with somebody else is good.”

Clara has already donated five times since she first became eligible in February.

“She does it with a friend as well but her friend only does whole blood so we do plasma as well,” Kylie said.

“I think if I can help out in this way and it doesn’t really have a negative effect on me then I’d like to do it to help people,” Clara said.

Mother-daughter duo Kylie and Clara Swainson .

Mother and daughter Kylie and Clara Swainson have been donating together since Clara turned 18. Photo: Supplied.

Kylie and Clara now join the half a million Aussies being recognised for National Blood Donor Week.

Donors can range from 18 to 75 years old and come from a range of different backgrounds.

Lifeblood volunteer Barbara Johnston said she loves seeing such a diverse range of people come through the doors.

“You do get a wide range of people and a wide range of ages,” she said. “Everybody has their own story, everyone’s got their own little tale to tell so it’s very interesting.”

But with one in three Australians needing blood or blood products in their life, these donors can’t do it alone.

And Lifeblood spokesperson Lyn Lindley is calling on more Illawarra residents to join their community.

“We want to say a huge thank you to all of our donors who made a difference and to ask others to make a change for life by becoming a blood donor,” Lyn said.

To donate visit the Lifeblood website, call 13 14 95 or download the Donate Blood app.

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