A wave of hypoxia and depleted energy swept over Commodore Drew McKinnie as he prepared for flying operations at his local gliding club in September last year. 

“I’ve done a lot of high altitude flying, so I had some awareness of what a lack of oxygen felt like,” he said. “I felt profoundly weak, unable to withstand exertion.”

He declared himself unfit to fly and left to see a doctor.  

“They quickly got me in an ambulance and off to hospital. They discovered I had a dangerously low red blood cell count and internal bleeding,” Commodore McKinnie said. 

“They gave me blood transfusions. I couldn’t tell you how much blood I took, but I have no doubt it saved my life.”

You never know when you will need that blood support, but when you do, it’ll change your life.

Scans revealed a tumour, “about the size of a boneless leg of lamb” infiltrated Commodore McKinnie’s stomach, spleen, pancreas and gall bladder. He was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer.

“It was a massive shock. I was concerned about what it meant for my future and the plans my wife and I had to travel, but I was determined to recover,” he said.

When Commodore McKinnie’s body didn’t respond well to chemotherapy, and during an epic, six-and-a-half-hour operation in March to combat the cancer, he again relied on blood transfusions to stay alive.

“I’m someone who has withdrawn from the blood bank and I feel grateful and humble and understand the importance of it,” he said.

As the 2020 Defence Blood Challenge launched, Commodore McKinnie is preparing for scans and an oncologist visit, to check his progress six months post-surgery. 

He urged his Defence mates to ‘step up to the platelet’ and offer someone another shot at life.

“You never know when you will need that blood support, but when you do, it’ll change your life,” he said. 

“As a recipient, I will always feel indebted to the anonymous folks who have helped keep me alive. It is a real gift of amazing value.”

The 2020 Defence Blood Challenge, which was officially launched in Canberra on September 2, creates competition between Army, Navy, Air Force and the APS to see who can make the most donations of blood products between September 1 and December 8.

To make a donation to Australian Red Cross LifeBlood, and help Defence reach a target of 9500 donations, register at www.donateblood.com.au/lifeblood-teams.