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‘Pints For Half-Pints’ Holiday Campaign

11 December 2001
Media Release

Blood Service Launches ‘Pints For Half-Pints’ Holiday Campaign

It’s normal for a steady stream of wee babies to undergo urgent heart operations during the December/January holidays in Green Lane Hospital’s heart unit. It is not possible to start these operations unless four units of blood are available as well as platelets and other blood products.

“You might say we need pints for half-pints”, says Tony Smith, NZBS’ National Donor Manager. “It’s essential that New Zealanders make a point of donating blood over the summer holidays, because the need for blood never takes a vacation – for many patients and especially these wee babies.”

Some children are scheduled for semi-urgent surgery in December and January, but others,
particularly newborns or neonates, could need emergency surgery over the holidays, some at only a few days of age and often at short notice, says Dr Kirsten Finucane, Director of Paediatric Cardiac Surgery, Green Lane Hospital.

“Most of these operations are done using the heart-lung bypass machine, which pumps the blood around the body whilst we stop the heart and correct the heart defect. At the start of each operation the pump tubing and reservoir are filled with fluid, and in the case of children under 14kg or so, this fluid includes at least one blood unit, sometimes more. That is just the start of it, and we often need to use further units during the operation and in the intensive care afterwards. Platelets and other blood products are also given to reduce the risk of life-threatening bleeding at the end of the procedure,” says Dr Finucane.

Call for Paediatric Donors

NZBS needs donors of all blood types throughout the year, and is making a special Christmas call for Paediatric blood donors. They must have Group O Negative blood (the “universal donor”), be able to donate in main donor centres in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Christchurch or Otago, and commit to donating every three or four months. There are approximately 300 Paediatric blood donors in New Zealand, and NZBS needs to increase this number to 400 in 2002 to continue to meet demand for special blood products.

Two babies (and their families) are helping the Blood Service launch their “Pints for Half-Pints” campaign – Toby Bird, 10 months, and Olivia Jenkinson, 22 months.

You could say blood is in the Bird’s family. About 40 years before Toby got the first of what could be many heart operations, his nana Diane Bidgood began her career as a technician in the Auckland Hospital Blood Bank (she’s now at Middlemore Hospital’s Blood Bank).

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Pints for Half-pints, P2

“The irony has not been lost on me that blood has been my livelihood since 1961, working in the area’s Blood Banks, but the urgent need for blood really hit home when Toby needed his operation in August. It really focused me on how important blood is – this was my grandson’s life!” said Mrs Bidgood.

Toby’s mum Carmen says, “Toby and his nana have always been close, and this ‘blood link’ has made them even closer. It’s also made me enormously thankful to people who donate blood, and to the doctors who do the wonders – like Dr Finucane. Even though Toby had his life-saving heart operation just a few months ago, he’s huge and now trying to walk!”

“Huge” is not an adjective one would associate with wee Olivia Jenkinson. At just two weeks old and weighing just 1,800grams, Olivia had to undergo emergency surgery. She was the smallest baby in New Zealand to ever undergo the complex Stage One Norwood heart procedure. Fewer than 10 of the operations are done annually at Green Lane Hospital because of their complexity and risk.

“The Stage One Norwood operations are always done on newborn babies who are usually very sick and require intensive care before they go ahead to operation. Without the operation, there is no chance of survival. About 65% of these babies survive the operation and leave hospital and then they face further operations in childhood,” said Dr Finucane.

Adds Olivia’s mum Kate: “Olivia was so tiny and frail before her operation. She literally fitted into my hand. We had her christened in Intensive Care. It was so emotional for our family. The fact that Olivia is doing so well is really a miracle. I cannot thank blood donors
enough – I really urge people to donate. Their blood could be the best Christmas gift someone ever got.”

Dr Finucane says: “In the Green Lane children’s heart unit, we do around 400 cases per year of which about 70% are on children under a year of age. Blood needs to be available for nearly every case, which means we request in excess of 1400 units of blood per annum, though we don’t necessarily use all those – some will be returned to the Blood Bank. 96% of children and babies survive their operation and get home, and this survival rate is steadily improving with the help of improved technology, including the services provided by the Blood Bank.”

NZBS encourages New Zealanders to donate blood during the holidays. While blood inventories are acceptable at present, demand can quickly increase over the holidays, and many donors are travelling and unable to donate. Additionally, red cells expire after 35 days, and platelets only last five days, so a constant supply is needed.

Information on donating is available by ringing 0800 GIVEBLOOD (0800 448 325) or by visiting the NZBS website on www.nzblood.co.nz.

To arrange interviews, ring Bill Moore, PRaxis Public Relations Ltd, 09 373 5068 or 025 769 654.

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