Half an Hour to Save a Life

In commemoration of World Blood Donor Day, we pay tribute to the Champion Blood Donors who have selflessly embraced regular blood donations as a part of their lifestyles.

Lee Seok Wai, 48, was a recipient of the Medal for Life 2024 at World Blood Donor Day 2024 for having made more than 150 blood donations. The civil servant has been donating blood since she was an adolescent and has since been contributing via apheresis donations since 2004. She also frequently encourages her loved ones and peers to donate blood if they are physically able to. One core memory of her efforts paying off was a time when she and her colleagues donated blood together during their lunch break on a workday. Seok Wai also shared some ways she keeps herself healthy to continue donating blood, as well as other methods which prospective donors may consider if they are seeking ways to give the gift of life.

When some of her friends were ill and required blood transfusions in 2019, Lee Seok Wai could not undergo a blood donation to help them as her blood type was incompatible. Unfortunately, doctors told Seok Wai that they would do their utmost to find compatible donors for her friends. That incident reinforced the importance of regular blood donations. 

Giving Back through Blood Donation

In her teenage years, while exploring ways to give back to society, Seok Wai pondered about either giving time or money. She believed that any willing individual is capable of giving money or spending time by volunteering. 

Seok Wai made her maiden blood donation at a blood donation drive at the former Jurong Junior College in 1993. But it was only in 2004 that she became more active with blood donation. Since 2004, Seok Wai has been giving apheresis donations. The procedure involves healthcare providers obtaining or removing blood cells, platelets and/or plasma from the donor’s body for transfusions to blood recipients in need. Unlike whole blood donation that can be undertaken quarterly, apheresis donations can be made monthly. Every year, she undergoes apheresis donations on 12 occasions when she is in Singapore. 

"Only another fellow human can donate blood to save another human. It is one of the few ways to give back to society at minimal cost to self, even when you have nothing," said Seok Wai. 

Embracing Discipline & Commitment

Having been donating blood for more than 20 years, Seok Wai learnt that discipline and commitment are integral to ensuring good health and safety in blood donation. The unspoken dedication is fuelled by donors' consideration of the needs of potential patients who will receive their blood–an additional responsibility that donors must constantly uphold.

In the earlier days of blood donation, she only travelled to countries that did not pose restrictions on one’s eligibility to donate. In an instance, because she had been to India for holiday, she could not donate blood for four months upon returning to Singapore. Such anecdotes point to the stringent measures adopted by both blood donors and the authorities to ensure the safety of the blood supplies in Singapore.

Receiving an Accolade for Her Selfless Efforts

Statistics showed that merely 1.8 percent of the population of Singapore donate blood, and Seok Wai was one of the few who was awarded the SRC Medal For Life at this year's World Blood Donor Day, held at Marina Bay Sands on 29 June, for this benevolent deed. 

When asked about her thoughts on receiving the medal, Seok Wai, 48, a civil-servant, said, “The medal represents a number, a milestone. I will keep donating blood as long as my health and lifestyle enable me to."

Building kinship within her immediate circle

While the process may seem a largely solo endeavour, Seok Wai went the extra mile to get her loved ones and peers involved in blood donation. Unfortunately, some could not donate blood due to medical conditions, like thin blood vessels, but she remains undeterred. 

Thus far, one of her most memorable moments as a blood donor was donating blood with some of her younger colleagues during their lunch break. It all started when they were discussing blood donation at the office one day, which spurred Seok Wai to schedule a date and time for them to donate blood together. She expressed that in today's day and age, youth are capable of learning more about blood donation on their own and she holds the conviction that youth in Singapore is willing to step forward to donate blood. 

Seok Wai urged, “Do what you can to encourage your network to donate blood.”

Tips for Potential Blood Donors

The notion of witnessing the insertion of a needle in an individual’s arm would make most people apprehensive. This is a natural response, given that even the most seasoned donors experience. Seok Wai admitted that she still averts her gaze when the nurse inserts the needle into her arm. 

To maintain one’s health so that they can keep donating blood, she said that watching her diet has been helpful. She also added, “Drink lots of water and take iron-rich food daily, if possible.” 

Beyond paying heed to the physical aspects of blood donation, Seok Wai urges blood donors to be mindful about the countries that they visit. Taking precautions while planning trips abroad are pivotal in mitigating one’s risk of contracting diseases which may debilitate one’s body and stymie one's efforts in donating blood.

Future of blood donation

Though not every individual may be eligible for blood donation, she encourages prospective donors to do what they can to contribute to the cause. 

"I believe that blood donation is another way for individuals to reach out to others living in their community and build kinship," said Seok Wai. 

Seok Wai said, “Blood donation is simple. It takes about half an hour of your time. You do not know who you could be saving next–it might be your loved one.”

By Hannah Jade, Volunteer
Copyedited by Michael Gutierrez, Volunteer

Inspired? Learn more about blood donation.