165 Pints Given, Now Dave Grainger Wants You To Donate In His Name

June 17, 2013 – Joelle Thompson, Saskatoon Express

Talking to Dave Grainger is like sitting in the front row of a performance. His voice crescendos when he gets excited, he shifts around with unbridled energy and he often uses his hands to emphasize a point.

That is why it’s hard to believe that Grainger has just come off a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week treatment of chemotherapy. But Grainger, who was diagnosed with leukemia in April, has a story to tell and cancer be damned, he’s going to tell it.

“Giving blood could very well have saved my life,” said Grainger, sitting comfortably on his couch at home during his recovery week. “I was going in to give my 166th consecutive pint of blood, and for the first time in my life since I was 20 years old, I got rejected.”

Rewind to 1975. Grainger, then 20, was a naval officer in Victoria, B.C., and was just issued a bet to go down to the local blood clinic and donate a pint. He, as well as another half-dozen officers, accepted the challenge.

“I remember we were standing in line, getting ready to do our screening and we had one great, big athletic guy and he just started turning white at the thought of having to be stuck with a needle,” Grainger said with a chuckle. “It was funny. Anyhow, we all gave blood that evening and it worked well for me and I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this.’ ”

Grainger stuck to his word – and how! From Victoria to Peterborough to Regina to Winnipeg and finally Saskatoon, Grainger would wait his required number of days and go back to the clinic to donate another pint. He joined the seven per cent of the population in Saskatchewan that regularly donates, which is three per cent above the average in Canada. He remembers when 100 pints was his goal, though he’s far beyond that number now.

What Grainger never expected was that his lifelong giving would lead to his diagnosis of leukemia. In for a routine donation on March 16, Grainger was rejected as a donor because his iron counts were low. A nurse at the Canadian Blood Service recommended he go see a doctor.

“I was thinking there must be something wrong with their screening test. I’ve never been turned down. I was a little bit offended,” said Grainger with a laugh. “So I ended up getting a blood test and the next week my family doctor called and said, ‘I need you to come in and see me.’ When I came in, he said all my blood counts were half of normal. We did more tests; the results were all the same.”

Weeks later, Grainger had his bone marrow biopsy, which determined that he had an aggressive case of pre-leukemia. Grainger went straight into an intense round of week-long chemotherapy. It took three weeks in hospital for him to recover.

Moira Kohlenberg, community development coordinator with Canadian Blood Services, said this is the first time she’s heard of anything like this in the Saskatoon clinic.
“We don’t want people to think we’re in the business of diagnosing anything, but that was helpful to him,” said Kohlenberg. “In David’s case, he took the advice that Health Canada says to go to the doctor and he was diagnosed.”

Grainger was not experiencing any physical symptoms at the time he was rejected as a blood donor.

“Early detection is vital in any kind of a cancer diagnosis. So my family doctor said, ‘You got a lucky break. You got to thank the blood service for what they did. They got things started.’ ”

But Grainger doesn’t just want to say thank you. He wants to do something for the Canadian Blood Service clinic in Saskatoon.

“I remember I was hooked up to a bag of platelets and a bag of blood. I got out of bed and I looked at the tag of each bag to see when they were collected,” said Grainger. “I got thinking some Joe Schmo just like me went in on their Saturday morning to give their donation. They spent the hour, gave their pint, had the snack afterward and went on home, never thinking about where it would go or who it would impact.

“I’ll tell you, tears welled up in my eyes . . . that was me for 38 years on the other end, just giving. And here I am now receiving. Before this is done, it’s common for bone-marrow transplant patients to require 50-60 pints of blood. That’s a third of what I’ve given since that day in 1975.”

Grainger’s goal is to replace himself as a donor. Now that the Canadian Blood Service has lost a loyal donor, Grainger wants to find someone who will be as committed as passionate about the process as he was, and he’s starting a campaign in Saskatoon to do just that.

“We have about 400 donors a week come through our doors,” said Kohlenberg. “To meet our supply of blood needed for the hospital, we’d like to see about 500 people a week. We’re always looking for more. This summer alone in Saskatoon, and really the entire North, we need about 800 new donors to come through our doors to meet that demand. Summer can be tough because of motor collisions and regular donors going on holidays and deviating from their normal routine.”

Grainger wants to do his part.

“I’ll never be able to donate again. Once you have cancer, that’s it,” said Grainger. “I thought, ‘Let’s see how many people that know me would go in and give at least one pint of blood in my name. And out of that, maybe some people will become regular donors.’ The company I work for (Bioriginal) said this was a great idea and were generous enough to sponsor the campaign and offer an incentive for these new donors.”

The incentive is an iPad 2. Those eligible are new donors or those who have given blood before, but not in the last few years. Donors can book an appointment with the Canadian Blood Service clinic located at 325 20th Street East, and tell the nurse they are giving their pint of blood in honour of Grainger. There is a catch. By the end of August, they must donate a second pint of blood to be entered in the draw.

“I want to drive new donors,” said Grainger. “Boy, if I could get a couple of hundred new donors going in there this summer, and out of that maybe a dozen people say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be as committed as he was.’ If I could replace myself that many times, mission accomplished.

“It’s good for you, it’s healthy. Every time you donate, they record your blood pressure and your pulse, so you have a record of your health history. On top of that, just last November Health Canada instituted a new policy that if you were rejected you had to go talk to the nurse and they can forward you to your doctor. It’s an extra screening process, one that saved my life and perhaps could save others’ too.

“It saves lives, simple as that,” added Kohlenberg. “You can’t manufacture blood; you can’t buy it at a drug store. So we rely on other people’s generosity with their time. And you never know when you might need it yourself, as in David’s case. If you’ve never donated, this is the time to come forward. David is an example of what is going on in hospitals. Every minute, every day someone needs blood in Canada. That is a statistic.”

Join Grainger’s campaign on Facebook under the event Saskatoon Summer Blood Drive 2013. To keep updated on his progress, visit https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/davegrainger.

Those who would like to book a time to donate blood can make an appointment at www.blood.ca or call 1-888-2-DONATE (366283). Inquiries about blood donation can also be made at that number, 24 hours a day. The draw for the iPad 2 will be at Bioriginal’s 20th anniversary event on Sept. 7.