The race to see which service can save the most lives has kicked off for 2019 with the launch of the Defence Blood Challenge in Canberra on September 5.

With more than 8500 donations made during the 2018 challenge, the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, said Defence was aiming to step up to the plate and give blood or plasma more than 9000 times this year.

“Through the Defence Blood Challenge, we have the opportunity to draw on our commitment to serve and make a life-saving impact in our community,” he said.

“A single blood donation can save the lives of up to three Australians and the gift of plasma can be used to treat a range of patients, helping those with serious burns, cancer or brain disease.

“The demand for blood and plasma continues to grow, so there’s always more we can do.

“This year, we aim to roll up our sleeves at least 9000 times to help those who rely on blood products to stay alive, or see them through a serious illness.”

Air Marshal Hupfeld was joined by the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, and Army Headquarters Chief of Staff Brigadier Kahlil Fegan in setting the example, rolling up their sleeves to give the first donations of the challenge.

From left tor right: Brigadier Kahlil Fegan, the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Squadron Leader Brad Horton and the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, at the launch of the 2019 Defence Blood Challenge in Canberra. Photo: Corporal Julia Whitwell

After plasma donations saved his 18-year-old daughter’s life last year, 2019 Blood Challenge Ambassador Squadron Leader Brad Horton, already a donor himself, stepped up his donation timetable.

“Lauren started having mild respiratory difficulty over a couple of months, until one morning she was so short of breath that she couldn’t get out of bed,” he said.

“We took her straight to hospital. The doctors couldn’t diagnose her straight away, so they were trying out different treatments. During that week, her condition deteriorated so much, she needed the help of a heart lung bypass machine to survive.”

A week of uncertainty tormented the Horton family, until doctors administered a plasma transfusion, which started to improve Lauren’s condition.

After two weeks, several tests and their results, doctors diagnosed Lauren with Goodpasture syndrome which caused her white blood cells to attack her lungs.

“She needed regular plasma transfusions, receiving 48 over a three month period,” Squadron Leader Horton said.

“I figured out that it took about 240 plasma donations to keep her alive and she was just one of many who were in need of treatment.”

Australian Red Cross Blood Service Chief Executive Shelly Park praised Defence’s support of the challenge for more than 10 years, contributing more than 110,000 donations.

“The Blood Challenge helps save thousands of lives every year and has a lasting impact on the lives of recipients as well as their families and friends,” she said.

“The Red Cross Blood Service cannot thank Defence personnel and their families enough for their support.”

The challenge, Australia’s longest-running annual blood drive, will run until December 8.