A blood challenge partnership between the Australian Defence Organisation (ADO) and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) has produced more than 5,000 donations in the last three years. The ADO Blood Challenge is Australia's largest challenge. Navy, Army, Air Force and Defence Australian Public Service (APS) employees compete over a three month period each year to make the highest number of blood donations.
SGT Andrew Kleef and his son Nathan
SGT Andrew Kleef knows how vital blood donations are. His son Nathan has an immune disorder and receives blood transfustions every 4 weeks. He'll need treatment for the rest of his life, inspiring SGT Kleef to encourage everyone who can to donate blood, plasma and platelets regularly.
Up until November last year, SGT Andrew Kleef, 81WG, had never donated blood and never thought to either. This year SGT Kleef is Air Force’s blood challenge ambassador and says it has provided him with a fantastic opportunity to help educate and encourage people to donate blood. He does this by sharing his family’s story about how much it has helped them and made a difference to their lives.
Nathan, SGT Kleefs, youngest son, was diagnosed in August 2011 with X-linked hyper IgM syndrome which is a primary immune deficiency. He was only thirteen months old. X-linked hyper IgM syndrome is a condition that affects the immune system and occurs exclusively in males (1 in 500,000 male children). Individuals with X-linked hyper IgM syndrome begin to develop frequent infections in infancy and early childhood. Without treatment, this condition can result in death during childhood or adolescence. People with this disorder have abnormal levels of proteins called antibodies or immunoglobulin. Antibodies help protect the body against infection by attaching to specific foreign particles and germs, marking them for destruction.
Nathan’s body did not produce the immunoglobulin he needed to be able to fight bacterial infections. These infections include pneumonia, chest and ear infections and if he drinks water containing Cryptosporidium he can getan intestinal infection, anything containing bacteria can cause him problems, fortunately for him, and his family, the viral side of his immune system is intact, it works. With the common cold and flu Nathan does have a level of defence but he can still be compromised and it could still progress into something bacterial.
The treatment for immune deficiency has come a long way. Immunoglobulin boosts the immune system and helps provide a normal balance of antibodies to fight infections. Before these procedures existed patients would have been like the ‘Bubble Boy’ and had to live in a sterile environment to avoid the possibility of life-threatening infections. Patients are highly prone to damage to their lungs and liver and even 10 years ago life expectancy was dramatically reduced with a large percentage of people with an immune deficiency dying before they were 25.
Nathan was diagnosed, he suffered from chest infections and an abscess in his groin and ulcers in his mouth and throat. He was at a point where he stopped eating and drinking, we decided to take him to the John Hunter Emergency Department in Newcastle where the doctors realised they were dealing with a rare case history. With previous exposure to diagnosis of immune deficiencies only a month earlier they proceeded with blood tests. It only took them six days to identify the problem.
Initially Nathan's parents thought a solution would involve minor treatment then everything would be fine. It turned out to be a bit more complicated, and very serious. Nathan now receives a blood product called Intravenous immunoglobulin which is taken from Australian whole blood or plasma donations which have been sent for processing in Malaysia. Intravenous immunoglobulin contains the pooled, immunoglobulin antibody extracted from the plasma of more than 1000 blood donors. Immunoglobulin is absorbed by the body, so every month Nathan requires a top up which until recently meant regular trips to hospital.
The Kleef family have a new delivery system and are able to do the top up at home via a small pump with a needle into the fatty tissue on Nathan’s waist once a week over a period of two to three hours. The biggest concern for the family was before Nathan was diagnosed he was constantly lethargic, sick and unsettled. Once his treatment was balanced, which took a few months, he become a typical, completely healthy kid. He’s a very happy and funny kid with a lot of character, a bit cheeky and has to play with whatever his brother is playing with -- he actually gets sick less than his older brother, Mitchell. His parents can take him everywhere and don’t have to worry about him catching germs at the shops or on the swings and slides at the public playground. It’s been a life-changer for them.
A bone marrow transplant offers a full cure for X-linked hyper IgM syndrome by essentially replacing the immune system.
SGT Kleef and his wife, Tracy were tested and found not to be donor matches though Nathan’s brother Mitchell was a 5/6 match in the first round of testing. They are confident in the outcome of the final results. If Nathan stays healthy, the doctors have suggested they wait until Nathan is around five before attempting the transplant.
The work being done at RAAF Base Williamtown by the base blood service coordinator, Samuel Hays, has increased the base blood donation rate from 120 to 280 donors per quarter. SGT Kleef said he would like to help other bases achieve similar success by using a comparable system to improve blood donations.
“We need base coordinators and ideally unit coordinators under them to encourage volunteers and take it to the next level,” he said.
“Statistics have shown units which have a coordinator have a donor participation rate of 9.3 per cent while units without have a rate of 1.8 per cent.
“One of our unit coordinators, who has needle phobia, became a first time donor with the Red Cross donor mobile during its last visit and now convinces others who are afraid of needles to do the same.”
“It makes a bigger impact when people take on the role to promote the blood service and this can be done by hanging posters or distributing flyers and sharing e-mails explaining why blood donations are important and who they help".
You (including family and friends)can all be a part of this challenge by donating blood during September and November 12 and having all blood donations recorded against the Air Force's tally in club:red.