A Lifelong Blood Donor and Advocate for Change

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.

At 45 years old, Shawn Koh has dedicated nearly three decades to blood donation. What started as a casual attempt to get a half-day off during National Service has transformed into a lifelong commitment to saving lives. Shawn, a Medal for Life recipient who has made more than 200 blood donations, has also inspired his family and friends to join this lifesaving cause, and hopes more people will become regular blood donors too.

Shawn Koh's journey into blood donation began in 1996 during his National Service in the army. 

"I participated in the blood donation drive for the half-day off!" he quipped with a chuckle. However, as he continued his blood donation journey, he discerned the heightened demand for blood, which spurred him to become a regular donor. 

"It felt good to know I was making a difference. That motivated me to keep going," said Shawn. 

Over the years, Shawn’s dedication to giving blood has built enduring friendships with the nurses with whom he shared cherished memories. 

"I've forged a rapport with the nurses, and we know each other by name," Shawn shared, highlighting the camaraderie between himself and the employees. These bonds that bind have become an unexpected reward for his commitment.

At 45, Shawn continues to donate platelets at Bloodbank@HSA at Outram, being the first in his family to be a blood donor.

His unwavering commitment to the lifesaving cause over the past 28 years has not gone unnoticed. Shawn received the Medal for Life for giving more than 200 blood donations at World Blood Donor Day 2024 at Marina Bay Sands on 29 June.

"Receiving the Medal for Life is an encouragement to me, and other blood donors. It affirms the many years of sacrifice we have made by donating blood in support of the National Blood Programme. I will continue to donate blood as long as I can to save lives, and do my part to meet the national demand for blood," Shawn said. 

Besides being a regular blood donor, Shawn has gone the extra mile to spread the word about blood donation to his friends and family. 

"As a regular blood donor, I exemplify the spirit of giving blood to save lives through my regular visits to the Bloodbanks. I had numerous dialogues with my family and friends on my rationale and motivation for giving blood. These inspired several of them to follow in my footsteps to embrace the lifesaving cause," he said.  

He gains intrinsic fulfilment by being the circle of positive influence among his network.

 "It's a meaningful gesture. It is heartening that many of them have become blood donors too," he said. 

Proposing Ways to Bolster the National Blood Programme

By rallying his family and friends to support the National Blood Programme, Shawn feels he is doing his part for the community. After all, he is just one of the blood donors of Singapore's blood donor pool, constituting 1.8 percent of Singapore's population. Translated, it means that merely 1.8 percent of Singapore's population shoulders the blood needs of the entire population.  

Every hour, 15 units of blood are used in Singapore, with the country requiring approximately 120,000 units annually to meet the transfusion needs of patients. With an ageing population, more advanced medical procedures, and new hospitals, the demand for blood will only increase.* 

He noted that the annual World Blood Donor Day ceremonies that recognise the dedicated contributions of Champion Blood Donors will encourage blood donors to continue giving the gift of life. 

Shawn also appreciates the expansion of the Bloodbanks' footprints over the past 20 years, which enhance accessibility for blood donors. Apart from Bloodbank@HSA, there are Bloodbanks at Woodlands, Dhoby Ghaut, Westgate, and One Punggol. Yet, he noted that the opening hours at the Bloodbanks remain a constraint. 

Ramping up the Youth Donor Pool

Besides enhancing donor accessibility, it is also critical to shore up the youth donor pool.  

Of the blood donor pool in Singapore, merely 15 percent are youth blood donors.

Shawn believes inspiring youth to participate involves engaging them in meaningful activities that fit conveniently into their schedules. 

"Youth today are keen on engaging in meaningful activities. But they need convenience and are not as willing to jump through many hoops," he said.

He suggested that parents consider bringing their children to the Bloodbanks when they donate blood.

"Parents can bring their children to the Bloodbanks to inculcate the importance of donating blood to save lives. The children will learn that blood donation is painless, like an ant's bite while having a great bonding time with the family," he said. 

Shawn believes that when parents bring their children to the Bloodbanks, such experiences will enable children to become more receptive to donating blood when they come of age.

Calling for More Regular Blood Donors

He accentuates the importance of negative blood type donors stepping forward.

"Negative blood types can only accept other negative types. Lives can be lost if the blood supplies are inadequate," he explained. 

To people who are yet to be blood donors, he urges them to take the first step to donate blood. 

⁠”We all play a part in the society, and donating blood saves lives,” he said. 

He also urges people to embrace regular blood donation as part of their lifestyles.

"⁠Regular blood donors are the pillars of the healthcare sector because their blood donations are used for several patients with various medical conditions. Without the donated blood, the medical sector would come to a standstill even if the best doctors and equipment are available," Shawn said.

Shawn Koh's transformation from an army recruit seeking a half-day off to a dedicated blood donor is a powerful testament to the impact of giving. His story underscores the importance of addressing common fears and engaging youth. Shawn hopes more people will join him in this noble cause to save lives.

By Shweta Ravi, Volunteer
Copyedited by Aradhana Mozumdar, Volunteer, and Sondra Foo, Marketing & Communications

Inspired? Donate blood.