Call for blood donors to curb Christmas shortage

Supply and demand: Corrimal physiotherapist Mel Sexton is urging Illawarra residents to give blood this festive season, with many regular donors away on holidays. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Supply and demand: Corrimal physiotherapist Mel Sexton is urging Illawarra residents to give blood this festive season, with many regular donors away on holidays. Picture: Sylvia Liber

A former national triathlon champion, Mel Sexton could barely walk two metres during the worst stages of her battle with leukaemia in 2014.

But thanks to the generosity of strangers, the Corrimal physiotherapist is back on her feet – and even reaching some more life goals – after a bone marrow transplant and countless blood and platelet transfusions.

This festive season the 30-year-old is urging Illawarra residents to roll up their sleeves and donate blood to ensure other cancer patients have access to the blood products vital to their treatment.

‘’My parents always encouraged me any my brother Brendan to do different sports and I represented Australia as a junior in triathlons while he represented the nation at the London Olympics,’’ Ms Sexton said.

‘’So having always been quite fit and healthy, it came as a shock when I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in 2014 aged 26. One day I noticed a lump on the back of my neck and within a week I’d been diagnosed and started chemotherapy.’’

After three rounds of treatment at Wollongong Hospital, Ms Sexton’s cancer went into remission but she underwent a bone marrow transplant at Westmead hospital to prevent its return.

‘’The transplant was pretty brutal – at times during my recovery I could barely walk a couple of metres before becoming completely exhausted,’’ she said.

Slowly she rebuilt her strength, completing a triathlon less than 12 months after her transplant and in 2016 climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with her family.

She’s now training to be a paramedic – and helping spread the message about blood donation.

‘’As well as the transplant I had many blood and platelet transfusions,’’ she said. ‘’I remember at times feeling quite ill with headaches and vomiting – and the transfusion would instantly make me feel better. Donors saved my life.’’

According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, the Wollongong donor centre needs more than 300 blood donations between Christmas and New Year.

During the same period in 2016 more than 60 bags of platelets – from 200 donors – were issued to Illawarra hospitals; and the blood service predicts an increase in demand this year.

’’Cancer patients are the biggest users of donated blood and rely on platelets to make it through chemotherapy,’’ spokeswoman Jemma Falkenmire said. ‘’The problem is platelets cannot be stockpiled for longer than a few days, so we need a constant, fresh supply as anything collected by Christmas Day will have been used by early the next week.”

Details: 13 14 95 or www.donateblood.com.au.