Wollongong man leads Red Cross blood bank charge

Blood donor Leigh Stewart at the Wollongong blood bank with nurse Susan Moreno and his nephew and niece, Victoria and Walter Stewart. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Blood donor Leigh Stewart at the Wollongong blood bank with nurse Susan Moreno and his nephew and niece, Victoria and Walter Stewart. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Leigh Stewart has helped raise more than $5 million for sick or disabled children over the past 20 years, but it was only seven years ago he discovered he had the ability to directly save the lives of critically ill babies.

The well-known real estate agent, auctioneer and tireless fund-raiser is one of just three registered blood donors in NSW with a rare platelet type used for transfusion to unborn and newborn babies.

Mr Stewart's fortnightly donations would have saved the lives of countless babies with Foeto-Maternal Alloimmune Thrombocytopenia (FMAIT) - a rare condition where a baby's platelets are destroyed by their mother's antibodies.

Red Cross Blood Service spokeswoman Jemma Falkenmire said babies born with this condition were at risk of major bleeding, especially in the brain, and so required transfusions at, or before, birth.

"Platelets are the small disc-shaped cells in blood that clot blood," Ms Falkenmire said. "Only 2 per cent of blood donors have this special platelet type."

Mr Stewart, 45, has donated blood and platelets more than 100 times since 2007 when he first donated as part of an Illawarra Business Chamber donation drive.

"Once the blood bank tested my blood I discovered I had this platelet type and since then, I've felt a responsibility to donate regularly," he said.

"It's very special to know that I am helping newborn babies - however every blood donation is special, all donations help save lives.

"Often people don't realise how important it is to donate blood until they - or one of their friends or family members - are lying in emergency needing a transfusion.

"That's why it's important for those who can give blood to do so. I guarantee there'd be more people out there with my platelet type, they just don't know it yet."

National Blood Donor Week, which starts on Sunday, will pay tribute to the contribution of donors like Mr Stewart, who established the Bandaged Bear Benefit and the Kids Fund charity.

Ms Falkenmire said in the past year, 500,000 blood donors nationwide had made more than 1.3 million donations, which had helped 3.9 million people.

"Leigh's case highlights that blood group types are complex and there are hundreds of varieties within the ABO blood group system," she said.

"In such cases of rare blood groups, hospitals from around the country are able to tap into our rare blood network for help."

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