One of my greatest annoyances in is that I am not able to donate blood in Australia. I used to give blood every three months. As a child, my mother would drag me along to the blood bank with her, where she would donate blood every three months (and then there was the wonderful milkshakes in tin cups and the barley sugar they gave you afterward) so there is no fear in going to the blood bank. I've got great venous return, so I can drop a pint in just under five minutes.
I liked giving blood.
Then, in the early 2000s, they brought in this rule. If you'd lived in the United Kingdom for more than six months between the years of 1980 and 1996, they will not take your blood. It's to do with there being the possibility of you passing on CJD - or the human variant of Mad Cow Disease.
I remember my friend Sam and I donating blood on the evening before the ban came into place. That was the last time I donated blood. 1991.
This still makes me rather annoyed. A government agency is discriminating against me and says that I am a mad cow. Strangely, they will happily take my blood in Britain.
Okay, I do get the rationale. There is no test for Mad Cow Disease. It's an insidious condition that gives you an awful death.
Then there is the history that has made the blood bank jittery. In Australia, the during the AIDS epidemic in the eighties, before drugs were found to abate the disease's passage, most Australian haemophiliacs contracted the disease and died through receiving infected blood products. I get why the blood bank needs to be cautious and because of this the Australian Blood Service is now one of the safest in the world.
Still, I'm now in another predicament and it's got me grumpy all over again about being deigned by the Australian Red Cross as being a Mad Cow (What's the bet on my file they have a crossed out cow on the cover?)
As many of you know, my niece Lolly is currently undergoing treatment for leukaemia. We found out the other week that she will be requiring a stem cell transplant in the near future. The doctors are confident of finding her a match - hopefully her sister will be able to donate, but if not, there is a world wide registry of stem cell or as they were formally known, bone marrow donors.Along with this, she's been requiring numerous blood, plasma and blood product transfusions to help keep her alive. (The treatment really is awful - I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy)
So here was my question to the blood bank this morning. As a mad cow, can I be on the bone marrow register?
The short answer is yes, but...
I had a lovely woman answer my questions. She's in the same boat as me. Born in England during the exclusion time (1980-1996 - if you spent more than six months in the British Isles during this time, that's it, no vampire visits for you) she can't give blood. A close relative of her's required a bone marrow transplant a couple of years ago and the family rallied.
For Mad Cows to go on the bone marrow register, you have to arrange for the tests privately and ask to be put on the bone marrow register - and they will take you as long as there are no other conditions that will stop you donating - Mad Cow Disease is not an issue. This means a trip to the doctor to arrange the tests and you need to pay the pathology fees yourself - it was $60 when they did these over ten years ago, so I reckon it's going to be a couple of hundred dollars now.
To me, this does not matter. I'll be going down to the doctors in the next few weeks and asking for the tests. I won't ask to be matched with my niece, it's more than likely a waste of resources, but I would be very happy to help somebody else down the track if the need arises.
Thing is, if I wasn't a Mad Cow, I could rock up to the blood bank and they would do the tests for free.
I suppose what I'm saying, asking really, if you can donate blood, take the hour out of your day and go and do it. If you're not a mad cow or don't have something that precludes you from putting yourself of the register, go have the test done and put yourself on the bone marrow register, especially as blood donors can ask to go on the register and not have to cough up for the pathology tests like I will (and any other mad cows that want to go on the register).
It's global, it's free, it's a couple of minutes of discomfort and you could very well help to save somebody's life down the track.
The number for the Red Cross in Australia is 13 95 96, or go to www.donateblood.com.au .
I wish I could give blood, I really do. 400,000 in Australia are not allowed to donate blood because they're deemed to be mad cows too.
The blood bank needs 27,000 donations a week to keep people alive at a minimum.
Please help if you can.