On his 70th birthday in 2022 and after donating blood for 50 years consecutively, retired engineer Kwan Sek-yiu gave blood again – for the 190th time. He holds the Hong Kong record for the number of whole blood donations. What drives him to give blood so regularly? While he was attending Queen Elizabeth secondary school in Mong Kok, the Hong Kong Red Cross gave a presentation about blood donation. “That was the first time I appreciated how giving blood could save lives,” Kwan says ahead of World Blood Donor Day 2022 on June 14. He donated his first unit of blood in 1972 after he finished school, aged 20. At the donation centre that day, he met his old school principal, Arthur Hinton , who told him he’d donated more than 50 times. “That inspired me to become a regular blood donor,” Kwan says. He has done exactly that, donating blood roughly every 75 days except when he has been unwell, out of Hong Kong, or preparing to compete in a major sports event. He is still fit and a committed sportsman. He says matter-of-factly: “I have done 50 years of distance swimming, 45 years of full marathons and done the [100km] Oxfam Trailwalker 25 times.” Young Chinese man donates blood 18 times and gives hair to cancer patients Despite being a septuagenarian, he will continue donating blood – to repay the community for his good fortune. His old school motto – “Prepare yourself that you may serve” (Vos parate ut serviatis) – is never far from his mind. Blood donations really do save lives, says Dr C.K. Lee, chief executive and medical director of the Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service. There is no substitute for it. “We can’t get blood from a stone” was the 1980s slogan that formed the backbone of a drive encouraging the public to come forward to give blood, he says. The need for blood is universal, but access to blood for all those who need it is not. The World Health Organization says blood is needed so often because it’s required in many medical emergencies; an estimated one in every seven people admitted to hospital needs a top-up. It’s often needed by women who have complications during pregnancy and childbirth; patients with sickle cell anaemia need blood transfusions throughout their lives; cancer patients frequently need blood daily during chemotherapy treatment. A car accident victim may need as many as 100 units of blood (a unit is around a pint, or 500ml). The average transfusion requires at least three units. And a single donation could save up to three lives. Whole blood is composed of several valuable products: red cells, platelets, plasma, cryoprecipitated AHF (a part of plasma with lots of clotting agents), and granulocytes. Sometimes a patient might need whole blood, sometimes just specific components of the blood. For example, people with chronic anaemia, or those with a gastrointestinal bleed might need red blood cells, whereas burn victims may need plasma. Blood can’t be stored forever, so regular donations are needed, says Lee. Plasma and cryoprecipitated AHF have the longest shelf life – they can be frozen for up to a year. Platelets only last for five days because they must be kept at room temperature and need to be agitated constantly to avoid clumping or clotting. Whole blood can only be refrigerated for a month. There are four major blood groups: A, B, O and AB, and each can be positive or negative. O- whole blood can be used in people with any blood type, but it is rare and supplies are always low. AB plasma can be transfused to people of all groups, but is also in short supply. The pandemic has seriously affected Hong Kong’s blood supplies , Lee says. Working and studying from home put mobile blood collection services from companies and schools on hold. The Red Cross collected only 200 to 300 units daily at the worst stage of the coronavirus pandemic, Lee says. In 2021, when it aimed to collect 650 units daily, or 237,250 for the year, just over 121,000 donors came forward and donated a little under 211,000 units of blood – about 580 per day – which were turned into 363,025 units of blood products for clinical use, he says. In the United States, an estimated 38 per cent of the population is eligible to donate blood, but only about two per cent do. Many of those who don’t give blood have never even considered it, probably because of a lack of understanding about how easy it is, how safe it is – and how crucial it is. 1 in 5 men dies before 65. Follow these tips to make sure it’s not you A call for blood products for someone in dire need within the community, or in the wake of a massive national tragedy, often has desired results. In the days following the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2001 in the US, it is estimated that half a million Americans came forward to give blood. So who can give whole blood? Most of us: any healthy adult between the ages of 16 and 65 according to the Hong Kong Red Cross. There are a few exceptions, to avoid the potential spread of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as mad-cow disease, malaria and other diseases. Details are available on the Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service website . Australian James Harrison has given more than anybody and was nicknamed the Man with the Golden Arm. His blood was precious, as it contained a rare antigen used to make a life-saving medication, Anti-D, given to mothers with a blood group that puts their unborn babies at risk. He is credited with making a difference to 3 million Australian lives. Until he gave up at the age of 81, he donated blood more than 1,100 times – despite an aversion to needles. Donors can give a unit at a time roughly every two months, and at most it takes an hour (an hour to save a life – maybe lives – think about that). There might even be benefits to the donor: according to one study, regular donation could help manage hypertension. It’s an entirely safe procedure – and blood is managed stringently afterwards, undergoing a slew of tests to make sure the right parts go to the right people. “The process causes no pain at all,” Kwan says, and doesn’t compromise donor health in any way. He still runs 12km weekly and hikes three to four times a week. “I have been giving blood for 50 years and I am still perfectly fit and healthy,” he says. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .