Ahead of National Voluntary Blood Donation Day, which falls on October 1, let us meet some of the inimitable volunteers

The birth of an initiative

For K. Panayappan, his 18th birthday is memorable because he donated blood for the first time, and he was accompanied by his father. Panyappan has since inspired many others to donate blood.

“My father used to donate blood once in two years I would accompany him as a child. I would watch his vein being pierced. After the blood donation, he would be given a juice pack. And I would wait to grab it from him. When I reached the age that would allow me to donate blood, my father suggested that I celebrate the birthday by donating blood and that is how it all started,” says Panayappan.

The next year, 2012, on his birthday – July 21 — Panayappan went to Lions Blood Bank, five members of his family in tow.

In 2013, when Panayappan was a student of an engineering college, he and nine of his classmates from Sankara Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School, most of them from Pammal, started a non-profit, Visumbu, with one of its focus areas being blood donation.

Panayappan and his friends are happy that they have created a group whose members are keen on donating blood whenever there is a need for it.

“The period 2013-14 marks a high-water mark in our blood donation work. We carried out a blood donation campaign with the support of the children in our colony. We handcrafted posters and attached chocolates to them, and distributed them to children and asked them to take it home. The initiative clicked with their parents learning about our blood donation drive, and some of them supporting it,” says Panayappan who works with a consumer goods comapny. More than 130 people donated blood in that drive.

In 2014, they drummed up more support through a digital campaign that drew people from other neighbourhoods in Chennai. In 2015, they extended the programme to conduct two drives a year.

A majority of Visumbu’s team members have relocated to other cities but the group’s activities continue unhindered.

“Over the last two years, we managed to gather 30 to 40 people for our blood camp. Given the fact that we are busy with our professional life, this number is fine and we are also into career guidance,” he says.

Vineesh Vishnu, Raja Kumaran and Piyush Mishra are a few of the other champion blood donors from Visumbu.

From being inspired to being the inspirer

J. Badrinath has been donating blood for the last 35 years, starting from his thirtieth year when he joined the Lions Club. Particularly inspired by the organisation’s blood donation drives, he became a blood donor, thereby choosing to be an inspiration to others.

“I have not kept a count of the number of times I have donated blood. In the early years it would be in three months. Now, I donate blood whenever it is possible, and the frequency has reduced due to age-related restrictions,” says Badrinath, who is a member of Lions Club of Madras Fort St George, and runs a BPO.

The 64-year-old whose blood group is B +ve blood is the go-to person whenever there is a requirement for blood, as he quickly organises donors to honour the requirement.

The highlight of the drives is that he is a part of the effort to debunk myths around blood donation.

A former chairperson of Leo Club, Badrinath was instrumental in raising a group of young people who indefatigably spread awareness about blood and eye donation in their neighbourhoods. Leo Club is the junior wing of the Lions Club International and its members are in the 13 to 30 age group.

“In 2017-18, we started 10 Leo chapters and increased its membership from 300 to 3000. These youngsters are ambassadors for us. They seek eye donation pledges from people in their neighbourhoods. When someone needs blood they spread the word within their circles. When children make a request, people oblige,” he says.

A winning point about blood donation

When he came across frequent reports of blood shortage in the country, R. Ethirajan decided to become a donor. Twenty-four years old, an employee of Central Bank of India and a promising table tennis player, he was discouraged by well-intentioned but misinformed friends and family members from doing so, as they felt being a regular blood donor would affect him as a sportsperson. Ethirajan says he has proved all of them wrong.

“By being a blood donor and TT champion, I have only been able to spread the word about blood donation better,” says 50-year-old Ethirajan who took voluntary retirement recently. Over the years, he has represented the bank in various tournaments.

Initially, people would be surprised to hear that he donates blood once in three months and also plays the sport but it became a great conversation starter.

“I got to motivate others to donate blood,” says the Saidapet resident.

Ethirajan recalls an incident when he donated blood a day before a major tournament.

“In 2001, I received a call for blood donation a day before an Inter Institution Tournament Table Tennis Tournament. I had no problem saying ‘yes’ to it. My team members wondered it I would be able give my best in the tournament and take our team to victory. As it turned out, I could,” he says.

The banker has followed the practice of donating blood on January 1.

“Many people avoid visiting a hospital on New Year’s Day, as they don’t want to begin the new year that way. But I make it a point to visit a hospital on January 1 and donate blood,” says Ethirajan whose blood group is O+.

147 and counting

The first time Rohith Fernandes donated blood he was 18, and he was doing it more for the excitement of doing something new than anything else. Today, donating blood is an unshakeable habit for 39-year-old singer who added to his blood donation tally only a few days ago.

“At last count, it is 147,” says Rohith who keeps count on his mobile. “Initially, it was a mental calculation but as the count kept increasing I started keeping track of it on my phone. It notifies me when I am next eligible and I also have my platelet count written down. If I am travelling, I plan my donations accordingly,” he says.

Rohith went through an transformative incident that led him to see blood donation in a whole new light.

“I had donated platelets for a seven-year-old boy with cancer. It was just another activity for me and my friends. A few days later, the boy’s father called to thank me, but I could sense his voice was quivering. Later, I learnt that the child did not survive. The incident really touched me and since then I have been a regular donor,” he says.

“When I have enough of something, why not give to someone to save their life,” is the reasoning.

“In fact, it has become an addiction for me and I am happy about it.”

Apart from being an active donor, Rohith posts verified requirements on social media to encourage others to join the group.

‘I do not want to kick this habit’

Arul Solai Murugan’s journey as a blood donor started the way it has for many others — donating blood as a birthday initiative. “I was 23 years old when I first donated blood. The procedure actually was uncomfortable — filling a few forms, answering questions about my health and habits,” says Arul.

He continued with blood donation for the next five years, and gradually increased the frequency to three times a year.

“I have so far donated blood 41 times,” he says. Initially, it was based on requirements posted in groups but now he makes it a point to volunteer to donate blood at regular intervals. “I realised there is a huge shortage and you should not wait for a request to come your way. You have to make it a habit,” he says. Donating blood regularly has led me to work out regularly because I want to be fit enough, he says.

Since the pandemic hit, Arul has donated twice. One of them was a request from the Egmore Children’s Hospital. A lady needed blood for a surgery. “My family was apprehensive of me going to the hospital in these times but as long as you have taken all precautions it’s perfectly fine. And it was for a cause,” he says. Finally, it is the ‘thank you’ from the donor that keeps me motivated, adds Arul.

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