Lucky to be alive is such a cliche. But for Jemma Burns, it couldn’t be more true.
She came off her bike, had her torso run over by a truck and despite all the odds is still alive.
“Most doctors I speak to are always blown away that I’m even alive,” she said.
Jemma was riding to work along crowded Exhibition Street in central Melbourne in August 2012 — a route peddled by scores of cyclists every day.
Mercifully her memory of what happened next has been wiped.
“I don’t recall the 15 minutes or so before the accident, I don’t recall the actual accident,” she said.
Witnesses described how Jemma hit a car mirror, then went over her handle bars and then ended up under the trailer of a truck.
“The truck basically ran straight through the centre [of her body],” Jemma’s mother Kerri Greening said.
“Her pelvis was crushed, her spine had moved right across, I’m surprised it didn’t break.”
Jemma was in a coma for six days and could not walk for three months.
Seven years on and her recovery continues both physically and psychologically.
Getting back on a bike has not been possible.
“[I] get really, really bad panic attacks when I’m driving actually, especially if a truck comes anywhere near me,” she said.
But the 40-year-old has no obvious outward sign of her horrific injuries.
Her remarkable survival is in no small part due to the massive amount of other people’s blood pumped into her body to keep her alive at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“I was actually given three times my body’s worth of blood,” she said.
“My injuries were so bad I was haemorrhaging through my whole torso for a number of days.”
Ms Greening said the doctor had queried whether Jemma’s body could cope “with having that amount of other blood go through her system”.
“It all turns on that,” she said.
“I just thought I’m so grateful to all those people who have given blood.”
Dr Chris MacIsaac said the demand for donated blood was always increasing. (ABC News: Peter Drought)
Intensive care director Dr Chris MacIsaac said of all the tricks up a doctor’s sleeve, blood is a particularly special one.
“Most of the therapies we give in intensive care we can buy from pharmaceutical companies, suppliers,” he said.
“But blood products are something that rely on the generosity of donors, we can’t make the blood products.”
The Royal Melbourne Hospital uses 15,000 packets of red cells like this each year. (ABC News: Peter Drought)
This week the Red Cross Blood Service is celebrating its 90th anniversary.
In the 1960s the Red Cross Blood service started storing blood in plastic bags rather than glass bottles. (Supplied)
It was founded in Victoria by Dr Lucy Bryce on October 16, 1929, to avoid ‘panic parties’ where doctors scrambled to find a blood donor.
A list of potential donors who were willing to be on call was created.
Blood began to be banked in 1939, after a solution was discovered that could be added to blood to make it last several days in the fridge.
Thankfully, glass storage bottles, hand sharpening of needles and even vein-to-vein transfusions are long gone, the service’s Sam Brown said.
He said testing had never been better.
“We test every single donation that comes through the door,” he said.
“We test for a range of infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, we also do blood group testing and bacterial screening.”
Dr Lucy Bryce directed Australia’s first major blood donation service in Victoria. (Supplied)
The AIDS crisis saw Australia become the first country in the world to screen all blood donations for HIV in 1985.
Today, homosexual men are still effectively banned from giving blood without abstaining from oral or anal sex, even with a condom, for one year.
That 12-month ‘deferral period’ is currently under review involving the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
“We will be able to share the outcomes of that review in due course,” said Stuart Chesneau, the service’s executive director of business growth and innovation.
People who lived in the United Kingdom for six months between 1980 and 1996 are banned from giving blood because of mad cow disease, while getting a tattoo rules donors out for four months.
Those restrictions could potentially be eased or scrapped in the future according to Mr Chesneau.
“We are constantly reviewing our position on these things,” he said.
“It’s important to recognise no decision is final.”
Stuart Chesneau said restrictions around blood donations were constantly under review. (ABC News: Patrick Rocca)
From blood … to poo?
Yes, you read that right. The blood service is planning to set up a ‘poo bank’ in Perth next year.
It’s part of an ever-increasing push to collect and distribute other human products.
The Red Cross Blood Service was founded in Victoria in 1929 but it wasn’t until 1996 that it became a national service. (Supplied)
The service will supply the Fiona Stanley Hospital with donated healthy stools to be transplanted into sufferers of Clostridium difficile infection — a life-threatening disease of the digestive system.
Another growth area is breast milk banks.
They are already operating in South Australia and New South Wales to help premature babies whose mothers are struggling to produce milk, but more could be on the way.
“The history of milk banking has largely been in individual hospitals to support that hospital,” Mr Chesneau said.
“We are actively discussing with governments about expanding that service.”
Dedicated plasma banks, used for treating a range of ailments such as burns and cancer, are also being trialled in Townsville and Canberra.
“Plasma collections actually outweigh whole blood collections,” he said.
“That demand has been growing 10 per cent year-on-year for the last 10 years so it’s not going away and we’re looking to respond.”
So, all that blood, poo and milk should keep the service very busy for another 90 years.