A Mid West man who was COVID-19 positive last year is regularly driving the 800km return trip to Perth to donate his plasma and help researchers understand the virus better.
His story has revived an almost decade-long question — why isn’t there a blood collection centre in Geraldton, the biggest WA city north of Perth?
According to a Lifeblood spokesperson, a centre simply isn’t needed to meet collection targets of either blood or COVID-19 plasma samples.
Cape Burney retiree Geoffrey Jones, 69, was one of only three Mid West residents to contract COVID-19 last year after he and wife Jennifer cruised on the Ovation of the Seas in early March. “They (Health Department) rang me up and said ‘congratulations, you are the first one’,” Mr Jones said.
Thankfully, Mrs Jones’ test came back negative, which meant the pair had to keep their distance from one another until Mr Jones received the all-clear from the Health Department.
Despite describing COVID-19 symptoms as “like being hit by a truck”, the Joneses said the psychological toll was far worse.
“That was the thing that was really hard, because it was just when the media got hold of everything. And Geoff was sort of sitting there seeing all these statistics,” Mrs Jones said.
Mr Jones has since made a full recovery, testing negative 12 days after his initial touchpoint with the health service.
He considers himself lucky to have made it through unscathed, which led to him volunteering his plasma to research.
As there hasn’t been a blood collection point in Geraldton since 2012, he has to travel to Perth to do so.
Since April, Mr Jones has travelled down five times to donate, saying: “It’s not too bad. I have daughters down there.”
He said he found it shocking there weren’t any facilities in Geraldton for blood collection, adding he would be able to donate far more often if he didn’t have to travel so far. “It would be great if people up here could give blood without going to Perth, and it would mean more jobs for nurses here,” he said. A Lifeblood spokesperson said the organisation started taking donations from recovered COVID-19 patients in May, setting out to collect 1300 convalescent plasma donations — so far, about 700 people have made donations.
“This is being used in clinical trials, both as a form of direct treatment and as a medication called COVID-19 immunoglobulin,” the spokesperson said.
She said the organisation’s existing network was able to meet the needs of Australian patients, but it was grateful for support from the Geraldton community.
“We do not expect residents to travel to Perth to donate blood (but) we will always warmly welcome their donations if they’re visiting,” she said.