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Blood transfusion recipient eager to return favour with end of mad cow disease concerns

Sixteen years ago, Claire Gannon almost died due to unforeseen complications during the birth of her son. A blood transfusion saved her, leaving her forever grateful to blood donors and inspired to donate herself – but she couldn’t. 

In the United Kingdom, where she lived at the time, transfusion recipients were not allowed to donate. 

Then, when she moved to Canada in 2013, she was again ineligible, this time because of her U.K. roots. 

Until November, Health Canada did not allow people who had lived or travelled for an extensive period of time in the U.K., Ireland or France during the mad cow disease outbreak of the 1980s and 1990s to donate because of the risk of transmitting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or commonly mad cow disease). 

Since 2003, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) estimates 76,000 donors have been ineligible because of the ban, including 7,500 since 2017. 

“I think I was in here about two days after,” Gannon recalled. 

She spoke to CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday before her second donation. 

“It was deflating,” she said of the ban, “but I knew there was good reasons (sic) behind it. I did what I could in the background to promote others, letting people know I wouldn’t be here without people donating.”

In addition to proving to be an easy and smooth process, donating has been very rewarding for her. 

“It was really important to me to be able to donate here in Canada,” Gannon said. 

“I wouldn’t be here today – my son wouldn’t have his mother today – if it wasn’t for the fact that I had a blood transfusion.”

CBS says it has signed up about 7,000 donors who were previously ineligible because of the ban – every single one equally important to the goal of recruiting 100,000 new donors each year to maintain the organization’s blood supply. 

“We love people who come in and try for the first time, but we also want people to come and repeat that so we can keep on having that blood supply secure and safe,” CBS community development manager Jasmine Vallarta said. 

She and Gannon encouraged anyone who was interested in donating to test their eligibility online and spread awareness.

Gannon said, “I think every single person somewhere knows someone – if it’s not directly impacted them… Know how that one donation can make a difference.” 

Health Canada approved the lifting of the ban after almost three decades of research showed it was safe for people who lived in the outbreak-affected countries to donate, CBS’ medical officer told CTV News in November

According to the data, the average case of BSE takes eight-and-a-half years from exposure to develop, which means people who lived in high-risk countries in the 1980s and 1990s would have been sick long before now. 

BSE can be fatal within about 14 months. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Miriam Valdes-Carletti and The Canadian Press 

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