Every six weeks, an army of about 30 plasma donors help Michael Klim get back on his feet.
Their gift allows the swimming great to receive intravenous immunoglobulin infusions (IVIg) that slow the progression of the rare neurological disorder that causes his chronic pain, and threatens his ability to walk and move.
The 46-year-old was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), for which there is no cure, in 2020.
This has led to him becoming a passionate ambassador for Australian Red Cross Lifeblood, which is calling for 9000 new blood and plasma donors this October to meet rising demand.
Plasma has overtaken blood as the type of donation needed most in Australia, with more than 6200 plasma medications and transfusions sent to hospitals nationwide every day.
A single IVIg treatment for Klim requires up to 32 plasma donations. The Olympic gold medallist travels from his Bali home to Australia for the infusions every six weeks, and has relied on more than 1000 blood and plasma donations to date.
“Since my diagnosis, I’ve realised how crucial and life-changing donors are,” he said. “People probably don’t realise one in three Aussies will require some kind of treatment from blood donation, but only one in 30 donate.
“(Plasma donation) couldn’t be any closer to my heart.”
In the six months leading up to his CIDP diagnosis, Klim said he “almost lost the ability to walk unaided and lost the majority of muscles in my legs”.
“The contrast from being someone who would approach things 100 miles an hour, challenge myself physically and mentally, … to then be restricted to certain activities was very hard,” he said.
“I was probably in denial about where some of this could lead – a third of patients with CIDP end up in a wheelchair, some make a full recovery and some live with it.”
The Covid pandemic reduced the regularity he could fly to Australia for treatment and amplified the physical and mental battles he faced while coming to terms with the condition.
“There was almost a feeling of hopelessness, for myself, my partner, my kids,” he said.
But the IVIg treatment, coupled with a physio program, has since stabilised his symptoms and even improved his functionality.
While he still uses a walking stick, he has been able to “get the majority of my lifestyle back”, including travelling, coaching, running clinics and camps his learn-to-swim organisation, Klim Swim, and spending time with his kids, Stella, Rocco and Frankie.
The experience has also encouraged Klim to launch the Klim Foundation to support other Australians suffering from CIDP. His ultimate ambition is to find a cure.
In the meantime, he urges Aussies to visit one of the blood and plasma donation centres scattered across the country and roll up their sleeves.
Book a blood or plasma donation at lifeblood.com.au or by calling 13 14 95.
-Plasma contains antibodies that helps us fight infections and diseases.
-It can be donated as frequently as every two weeks. The process involves a special machine drawing blood from your arm, separating it collect the plasma, and returning the remainder of the blood to your body.
-Plasma-derived medicines are used to treat more than 50 serious medical conditions, and the demand for these is climbing due to more accurate diagnoses, a growing population and plasma being prescribed to treat more conditions.
-Plasma is used to treat trauma and bleeding, make lifesaving medicine for auto-immune diseases, cancer, haemophilia, kidney conditions and burns, and treat every Australian who has had a post-exposure tetanus injection or chickenpox injection. Every pregnant woman who receives an Anti-D injection is also a recipient.
-It can take up to 15 donations to make a single dose of some plasma medicines.
-Visit lifeblood.com.au to determine if you’re eligible to donate and find out where you can donate.
Source: Australian Red Cross Lifeblood