World Blood Donor Day: Ron Thanks 100 Donors For Keeping Him Alive

Each day Ron Pattenden says a prayer thanking the 100 blood donors who have kept him alive. If he didn’t receive 1-2 units of blood from donors each week, Ron may not be here to share his story around World Blood Donor Day, Wednesday June 14. 

Ron, 76, has large granular lymphocytic leukaemia (LGL leukaemia), a rare blood cancer. Ron also suffers anaemia, meaning the haemoglobin in his red blood cells is low and his blood struggles to carry a healthy level of oxygen so he needs an input of fresh blood each week.

Roughly two thirds of donated blood goes to people requiring transfusions for medical conditions such as anaemia, cancer and blood disease. 29 percent of donated blood goes to cancer patients. Around a quarter of blood supplies are used in surgery, including cardiac and emergency surgery. The other six percent of donations is used to treat blood loss after childbirth.

120,000 units of blood are collected in NZ each year, treating an estimated 29,000 patients. After it has been processed, nearly 40 percent of blood is used in hospitals around Auckland; just 2.75 percent of processed blood is consumed from Whangarei Hospital's Blood Bank. 470mls is the average amount of blood donated. This is 7-8 percent of the blood in an average adult, and each donation is separated into red blood cells, platelets, blood clotting factors, plasma, anti-D, immunoglobin, globulins and several pharmaceutical/medicinal components.

Ron’s severely low haemoglobin means he needs to receive anywhere from 280-313mls of red blood cells at a time. That comes from one unit of blood from one donor, and on weeks when Ron’s haemoglobin is critically low, he needs two units. Having had 85 transfusions in his life, receiving 1-2 units at a time from 1-2 donors, Ron estimates he has 100 donors to thank.

A Whangarei local, Ron was found to be anaemic when increasingly low oxygen levels meant he could barely move, let alone play bowls. Further testing, an unsuccessful course of Eprex and a bone marrow biopsy found his marrow wasn’t producing healthy blood and leukaemia was detected after that. 

Ron suffers from asbestos disease, kidney failure, and diabetes on top of LGL leukaemia and anaemia, and also had his thyroid gland removed decades ago, so each condition causes complications – for example, the iron levels in each unit of blood Ron takes in must be watched carefully as his failing kidneys can’t process much iron.

A normal healthy adult will have haemoglobin levels of 120-170 grams per litre of blood (g/L); Ron typically has just half that, often with levels of around 86g/L. Each unit of blood Ron receives raises his haemoglobin by ten grams. At its lowest point, around 2014, Ron had a haemoglobin level of 57 and struggled to breathe.

The O-type blood Ron receives gets processed all over the country. Donors are anonymous, but Ron and wife Rosalie always appreciate the people who have taken time out of their day to volunteer part of themselves.

 “We tell our children and grandsons, go and give blood for god’s sake!” Rosalie says.

“Years ago I used to be worried about blood transfusions, where the blood came from,” Ron reflects, “But I’ve become aware it is very much screened by the blood service. I absolutely admire the donors. Not a day goes by I don’t get out of bed and say Thank God for the blood donors.”

*Only 4 percent of us currently roll up our sleeves and donate. NZ Blood Service requires approx. 3,000 donations EACH AND EVERY WEEK to meet hospital needs – so please phone 0800 448 325 to organise your donation. 

Ron Pattenden with Nurse Les Boucher

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