Passion: a driving force leading Team Red at Farmers

Imagine your child being diagnosed with a New Zealand-first medical condition and learning that the road to recovery would be one of trial and error. This is the exact situation Nikki Besley and her then seven-year-old son found themselves in just four years ago. Today it’s the memory of this traumatic time that acts as the driving force behind her passionately recruiting blood donors at her workplace.

Nikki is the Team Red Captain and enthusiastic blood donation advocate at department store chain Farmers, where she has worked for the last five years. Team Red is New Zealand Blood Service’s (NZBS) new blood donation programme that allows companies, organisations and social groups to donate blood as a team.

Although Nikki has been a whole blood donor since she was 18 years old, it was her son’s near-death experience that made her realise the amazing difference donated blood and blood products make to people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Her story started when her son began suffering flu-like symptoms, after several visits to the family clinic, and despite her doctor’s tireless effort to decipher her son’s condition they were still no closer to understanding what was wrong with him. The next stop was as a trip to Starship where (unbeknownst to Nikki) they too would struggle to diagnose her son as his condition was a New Zealand first.

As it turns out, Nikki’s son was struggling to fight off a tricky virus, one that would double in size when her son would get hot and triple when he would get cold – all the while attacking his red blood cells and restricting the flow of oxygen to his brain. Time was of the essence and it became crucial to obtain a definitive diagnosis.  After several tries from the determined medical staff at Starship, a plasma exchange was suggested – a procedure in which plasma is taken from the patient through a process known as ‘plasmapheresis’ and is restored by using donated plasma. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood in which red and white blood cells and platelets are suspended – it is characterised by its yellow hue and is often referred to as liquid gold. Nikki recalls standing next to the machine as it separated her son’s plasma from whole blood.

“My son’s blood was tar black”, she says. “His blood was poisoning him.”

After six weeks, 26 blood transfusions and four plasma exchanges in the hospital, Nikki and her family were finally allowed to go home – her son was on the road to full recovery followed by yearly check-ups to continue monitor his wellbeing.

“I’ve been a donor for many years, but I was truly humbled when I experienced first-hand what donated blood can do – in my case, it helped save my son’s life. I felt so helpless when he was sick that I decided I would do everything I could to encourage more people to donate blood and plasma”, says Nikki.

“I’d always liked the idea of donating which is why I started back in high school, but as you grow older you have more responsibilities and the time constraints are greater, which is why it has been amazing to bring my employer, Farmers on board.  To be able to have a team of blood donors at work and the support to leave work to donate has made all the difference.”

New Zealand Blood Service launched Team Red with one simple objective: to make it easier for eligible people to participate in the essential life-saving activity of donating blood. Since joining Team Red, Farmers has proudly recruited more than 30 whole blood donors.

“When I’ve spoken to people at work and explained why I believe it’s so important to become a blood donor, I’ve been overwhelmed with the support I’ve received.  New Zealand Blood Service and Team Red have made everything so easy, a shuttle service picks us all up at work, takes us to the donor centre, and then takes us back to work again. All we have to do us roll up our sleeve and then enjoy a biscuit afterwards.”

According to Nikki, it’s great to know they are saving lives, but another hidden benefit is the camaraderie it has created with her work colleagues, people she wouldn’t otherwise get to see in day-to-day business in a big organisation like Farmers.

“Being a part of Team Red has been a great moral booster, its given us all the opportunity to get to know each other a little better, and it’s pretty neat knowing that each donation has the potential to save three lives,” says Nikki.

She loves welcoming new donors on board and looks forward to the returning volunteers. If you work at one of Farmers’ stores across New Zealand and you want to know more about donating blood – Nikki is definitely the person to speak to!

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