Wed, Oct 17, 2018 - Page 13 News List

‘Addicted’ to giving

Tom Chen is among a number of faithful platelet donors who have provided blood centers with hundreds of units, which motivates him to keep healthy so as to remain an eligible donor

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Tom Chen poses for a congratulatory photo after reaching 450 units of platelet donation.

Photo courtesy of Tom Chen

Tom Chen (陳建嘉) still shakes with fear at the sight of needles, but looking at the track marks on his arm you wouldn’t know it.

“When I see the doctor, sometimes they think I’m a drug addict,” Chen quips.

The 55-year-old Taipei resident is, however, addicted to something else: visiting a blood center every four weeks to donate blood, which involves inserting a needle into his arm for up to two hours. As of last month, he has donated 450 units of platelets at a rate of two units per visit. By comparison, blood donors can only contribute one unit every two months.

“My figures are not that impressive. There’s probably a couple hundred of us,” he says, wasting no time naming three people who have exceeded 1,000 donated platelet units.

What started as a desire to do something good following the death of his father (which had nothing to do with blood donation), has become an integral part of Chen’s life, volunteering twice a week at the Guandu Blood Donation Room. It additionally makes him health conscious, as a simple cold can result in him being unable to donate.

“There are things that society can do without, but blood isn’t one of them,” Chen says. “So I can’t let anything happen to my body. When I can’t donate, it not only disrupts my routine, I start worrying that there’s something wrong with my health.”

YOUNG DONORS NEEDED

People like Chen contribute to Taiwan having the highest rate of blood donation in the world — 74.9 per 1,000 people, according to a Taiwan Blood Services Foundation (TBSF) report. A 2016 WHO report, which doesn’t include Taiwan, has Germany at the top with 50 per 1,000 people.

Tu Wen-ching (杜文靖), a spokesperson for TBSF, says that the country has experienced a drastic turnaround from the early days where hospitals relied on “professional” blood donors, also known as blood cows (血牛). The practice of selling blood was banned in 1987. By 1991, five percent of the population were donating blood, a number that rose to over eight percent in 2011, but since then has steadily declined.

TBSF points to a strong social campaign promoting voluntary blood donations in the 1970s and 80s involving celebrities, politicians, military units and medical associations as an important factor in Taiwan’s high rates.

However, Chen laments that young people today are less likely to donate, noting that the first time he donated blood was during college with a group of friends. Last October, TBSF reported that blood donations by young adults have decreased by about 40 percent over the past decade, mainly because of lifestyle changes and their habitual consumption of caffeinated beverages, which affects the body’s iron absorption rate. Some overprotective parents also discourage their children from donating blood, according to TBSF.

People over the age of 65 are not allowed to donate without a doctor’s approval, and 70 is the absolute cut off age. An aging society means fewer donors and more people requiring blood, and Chen tries to convince any young person he comes across to join the ranks. His daughter has donated three times so far.

Chen says that while hospitals know how much blood they need per day, they still have to keep at least seven days’ worth in reserve. In May, this number dipped to 4.3 days, with O-type down to 3.7 days, which Chen says is very alarming.

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