It is a gift of life that one can give to others in need, and at the same time forge a lasting relationship.
IT’s that time of the year again when there will be several blood donation drives as the month of Ramadan is around the corner and hospitals are expected to stock up their blood banks with the precious life-giving fluid before the Muslims begin their fast.
Many of us do not realise that in Malaysia, Muslims make up the majority of blood donors.
There is also a common belief that blood donation is required only for accident victims who have lost a lot of blood.
We take for granted that there is always ample stock of blood in our hospitals. After all, how many accidents happen each day that require large amounts of blood?
Yet even in the best of times hospitals are often short of one blood type or another.
I am sure there are many who are not aware that other than trauma and accident victims, blood is also needed for children with anaemia and women who have complications during pregnancies and childbirth.
Blood is also for people who require regular transfusions, such as those who have conditions like thalassaemia, sickle cell disease and even cancer.
We often imagine that when blood is donated, it is transfused directly into the recipients lock stock and barrel.
What many of us are unaware of is that blood can also save multiple lives as it can be separated into several components – plasma, platelets and red cells – to treat many different patients with specific medical conditions.
Each time there is an appeal for blood, or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other groups organise blood donation drives, I become emotional as it brings me back to the day when I donated my first pint.
It was many years ago when I was a college student and was going around with four Chinese friends from Sibu looking for rooms to rent in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
We approached several homes which displayed “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 any room to an Indian chap.
Though stunned and 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 Chinese friends came knocking on my door in the middle of the night. It was on the eve of Deepavali. They seemed to be in a state of panic.
They informed me that they were looking for someone who had AB+ blood and happened to know that I have it.
My friends 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. As the son was precious to them, so was my blood to me. It would have been so easy to justify my refusal to help. After all they had rejected me because of my colour.
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 apologised. They also wept unashamedly.
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.
Now, this is something I have kept to myself all these years. Ever since that fateful night at KLGH, the family members changed their attitude towards me and often invited me to dinner which I always rejected politely.
From then on, the family has without fail, sent me a cheque for RM2,000 each year, around Deepavali. Over the years, I had always quietly given the money away to various charities.
The son now lives in Australia, running a successful import and export business. During my past visits to Sydney, he dutifully picked me up from the airport and insisted that I should stay in his palatial house.
No matter how busy he was, he somehow managed to take a few days leave to entertain me and ensure that my stay in Down Under was comfortable.
He also joked that it was the “Indian blood” in him that saved his life.
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. In fact, I gained a “blood brother” (forgive the pun).
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 and family to respond to the call of a worthy cause.
One does not need a special reason to give blood. One just needs to believe that it is the right thing to do.
And who knows, we ourselves, a family member or a friend might one day need the precious life-saving fluid.
Hospitals are in constant need of blood, so every little contribution is important to ensure that there is a healthy and reliable stock at hand.
Blood is literally a gift of life that one can choose to give to the needy.
And who does not know that blood is thicker than water?