When the Wollongong Blood Donor Centre opened its doors in 1963, the Illawarra region was a bustling and dangerous industrial hub. With no permanent collection service, blood was raced from Sydney against the clock to treat patients with severe injuries.
Now, as the service celebrates its Donor Centre celebrates 50 years of saving lives in the Illawarra, its contributions to the health of the city are still being felt.
“We had a huge demand on the health system simply because it was an industrial city – steelworks, mines, port. If you worked there, your chances of having a serious injury were pretty significant,” said Dr Glenn Mitchell, a University of Wollongong lecturer and expert in Illawarra public health history.
“[Sourcing blood from Sydney] would have added hours to treatment and may well could have cost lives,” he believes.
Last year the Donor Centre contributed a total of 18,000 bags of blood. These donations, broken down into whole blood, plasma and platelets, were used to help cancer patients, immune deficiencies and anemia.
“As Wollongong is a growing area there’s going to be a larger concentration of people who will need blood. The [service] really does supply a big contribution to the blood supply of Australia,” says Jarrod Flynn, Community Relations Officer at the Wollongong Blood Donor Centre.
Before recent scientific advancements, little was known about the benefits of blood. When the Donor Centre received it’s first donation on the 8th of April 1963, blood was stored in bottles and expired quickly.
“Glass obviously wasn’t a good way to store the blood – basically the fragility of the bottle meant that there were accidents. Now it’s in these nice plastic bags,” said Mr Flynn.
Last year, 5000 individual donors gave blood at the Wollongong Centre, making up 1.3 percent of the total donations in Australia. In 1941 before the Centre was established, less than 600 people contributed through mobile donation services.
“I’d say between 300,000 – 400,000 (people have donated since the service opened),” said Mr Flynn.
Donations from the Wollongong Blood Donor Centre have assisted vital scientific research, including discovering the numerous uses for plasma, believed to be the key to future of medical care.
With the need for blood expected to double in the next decade, the donation service in Wollongong will play an increasing role in meeting demand.
“We are looking for a centre of greater capacity… [to] accommodate as many donors as possible,” he said.
It is estimated 1.4 million donations will be needed this year to meet demand.
The Red Cross mobile donation unit will be at URAC at the University of Wollongong on 28 – 31 May.
Written: AMELIA LINDSAY
Audio Slideshow: KRISTY O’DONNELL
Video: JULIAN KEITH