Blood is very special

Blood alone moves the wheels of history.  

– Martin Luther, German professor of theology

The gift of blood is the gift of love. Two things prompted me to write on the life-giving fluid this week.

One was an incident four days ago when a friend from Malaya buzzed me and appealed for four points of AB positive blood to prepare her for surgery. She knew I had several good friends in Petaling Jaya who were regular blood donors.

I didn’t disappoint her. Seven of my buddies took time off from their busy schedule to bleed a pint each. My friend asked for four pints but I thought an extra three pints as backup would be safer, just in case.

The other was a news report yesterday that Sarawak would propose a regional blood bank to be housed at the Sarawak General Hospital to cater for blood transfusion needs. State leaders will include the proposal in their health autonomy discussion with the Health Ministry.

I believe it’s about time Sarawak had a regional blood bank.

Sarawak is never short of generous civic-minded citizens who are ever ready to donate their blood. For example, according to my buddy Karambir Singh, the Miri Hospital blood bank on average collects about 8,000 pints yearly. That’s an average of 21.9 pints a day.

Karambir, who is MRC Miri District Blood Donor Recruitment Committee deputy chairman, has so far this year organised 36 blood donation drives since March 25. His team could have organised more campaigns had it not been for the movement restriction orders to curb the spread of Covid-19. They had to stick to very rigid SOPs.

Miri appears to be a prolific blood collection centre in the state. The city has the distinction of being the first in the country to achieve WHO’s ‘Voluntary Non-remunerated Blood Donation’ (VNRBD) status 31 years ago and has maintained the title ever since.

VNRBD simply means that a person gives blood on his own free will and receives no payment for it, either in the form of cash, or in kind. It also means a person receiving blood need not find a replacement donor.

Congrats Karambir, you and your team have done Miri proud.

Whenever there is an appeal for blood or blood donation drives, I become emotional as it brings me back to the day when I donated my first pint.

I was a college student going around with four Chinese collegemates looking for rooms to rent in Kuala Lumpur. We approached several homes with ‘Rooms To Let’ signs, but were turned away each time with the excuse that the rooms had already been taken.

At one particular house, I overheard the landlord telling my friends that his family was not enthusiastic about renting out rooms to non-Chinese.

Though disappointed, I told my friends that they could go ahead and stay at the house without me. I eventually found a room let out by a Malay couple who had lived in Sibu when the husband served with Rascom in the seventies.

Several months down the road, my collegemates came knocking on my door in the middle of the night. It was on Deepavali eve.

They were looking for someone with AB+ blood group and I happened to be that person.

The collegemates explained that their landlord’s only son was involved in an accident and required immediate blood transfusion. The Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (KLGH) at that time did not have any AB+ blood in stock and the supply of other blood types was acutely low.

Time was running out for the critically injured 20-something son.

Remember, this was the very same family who turned me away when I was in need of a room in their house.

Being human, my first thought was to do onto them as they had done onto me — to get even.

However, having been brought up to be “colour blind” and tolerant of racial differences by my family, and having lived among diverse ethnic communities in Sarawak, empathy quickly overcame the darker side of my heart. So, yes, I agreed to give my blood to the young man.

I had a few friends living in Sentul at that time and I called them from a public phone (it was nearly midnight) to see if they had the same blood type.

I managed to round up six of them (incidentally, they were also Indians) and we headed down to KLGH. The seven of us bled a pint each.

Needless to say, the family thanked me and wept unashamedly for our willingness to bleed to save their boy.

As if that was not enough, the young man’s mother got down on her knees, took my hand, and apologised profusely as the hospital staff looked on.

As it is not our culture to allow an older person to kneel down before someone much younger, I quickly dropped to my knees and comforted her, saying that anyone would have done what I did.

Since that life-changing night at KLGH, I had bled many times for others knowing that the simple act could literally save lives. As if it happened just yesterday, I still remember that my blood not only saved a life, it also led to a lifelong friendship.

Though I no longer donate blood, I am still supportive of blood donation drives and will do my very best to help by encouraging friends to respond to the call of a worthy cause.