Blood relatives can’t wait to give

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Queenstown’s Mike McLeod was lying gravely ill in hospital in 1997 as surgeons tried to find out why blood kept pouring from his body. As Tracey Roxburgh reports, his daughter Micaela was a baby at the time but now she’s old enough to give blood.

Micaela McLeod knows the importance of blood donors – without 129 of them, her father, Mike, wouldn’t be here.

The Queenstown 17-year-old plans to give blood for the first time this month, something she has wanted to do for several years to try to save the lives of others.

Mr McLeod, a freelance cameraman, was working for TVNZ in August 1997, just two weeks after his wife Tsehai Tiffin gave birth to their first daughter.

He was supposed to have been on paternity leave, but got a call from TVNZ asking him to delay that for one day to get footage of a bus in Ashburton.

The reporter had got the timings wrong and the pair had to set off an hour earlier than planned.

A sleep-deprived Mr McLeod said he managed to get ahead of the bus and took his camera from the car near the Rakaia Bridge.

“I looked, but obviously didn’t look properly. I was tired and rushing … I stepped out in front of a car.”

Mr McLeod says he woke up on the road.

“Having filmed many accidents I remember thinking: ‘I hope that helicopter gets here soon’.”

The Garden City Helicopters pilot had worked with Mr McLeod and told him later he looked down, saw the TVNZ car and thought ‘Jesus, they got here quickly’, before realising who the patient was.

Mr McLeod was rushed to Christchurch Hospital with critical injuries – the worst of which was a torn superior vena cava – a vein which carries deoxygenated blood to the right atrium of the heart.

Because of the tear, Mr McLeod was losing blood at an alarming rate – in 24 hours he needed four and a-half times his body’s entire blood volume, requiring blood from 129 donors.

“It was pouring out of me – I, of course, was blissfully unaware.

“They [the medical staff] were standing in the operating theatre in gumboots awash with blood.”

Surgeons attempted to find the cause of the blood loss, but couldn’t at first – ultimately telling his sister, who worked at the hospital, to gather family to say their goodbyes.

Fortunately a thoracic surgeon on his way to Christchurch Airport was recalled to the hospital and the tear was finally located.

Mr McLeod, who was in a coma for a month, also sustained a “smashed” femur, multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung and damage to his shoulder nerve.

Ms Tiffin told him later he died “a couple of times”.

“They thought that I’d have brain damage – they think that because the blood was pouring out so quickly they were getting [blood] out of the fridge and putting it into me cold … it cooled my whole body temperature right down.”

Two-week-old Micaela was taken to the hospital to see her father and have photos taken with him in case the worst happened.

But Mr McLeod made a full recovery, although it wasn’t until a few years ago Micaela understood the extent of her father’s injuries and the impact blood donors had on her family’s life.

“If there wasn’t 129 people who gave blood, which is quite a lot, it wouldn’t have saved his life.”

Mr McLeod, who had given blood once before the accident, is now a regular donor, “unfortunately, I’m never going to be able to in my lifetime give back as much as I used”.

Ms Tiffin is ineligible because she lived in the United Kingdom during the outbreak of mad-cow disease. 

Now it’s Micaela’s turn, having waited to give blood since she was 14, and her sister Zara (14) is also keen to give blood once she’s old enough.

While in New Zealand teenagers are eligible, provided they meet criteria, from the age of 16, ill-health and infrequent visits by the New Zealand Blood Service to Queenstown meant Micaela has still not donated, but is looking forward to helping save someone’s life.

“I know it actually helps people … I think it would be really cool if [my blood] was going into someone like Dad.

“That’s all I think about, is someone like Dad,” Micaela says.

“If no-one donated blood, Zara wouldn’t be here.

“I never realised how little someone has to give to impact someone’s life.”

tracey.roxburgh@odt.co.nz

– Otago Daily Times