Anne and Hannu Pirttimaa both donated blood the first time before they turned twenty, Hannu, typically, during his military service, and Anne, for no particular reason, with a friend after she had reached the required age.
The hectic times with starting a family broke the habit, but it was restored when the youngest child Juulia got seriously ill before the age of one and needed blood to recover from surgery.
“The baby seemed to have a quite usual case of bronchitis, but fortunately a thorough physician ordered an x-ray. An infiltrate was found in her lungs and examinations revealed it to be a tumour. After the surgery, it was discovered that it was a cancerous tumour, the size of the baby's fist, that typically sends metastases,” Anne recounts.
The little patient was given blood preparations to help her recover from the heavy surgery and gain strength for the planned cytostatic treatment. Soon the family got some good news though: the cancer had not spread, and 99 per cent of the tumour had been removed in surgery. Juulia's treatment was limited to follow-up checks, and the family got off with a fright.
“During the dramatic turns of Juulia's illness, when the little patient gained strength with the help of donated blood, the importance of blood donation became very concrete and close. Our baby had been given vital help by unnamed donors, so, for us, donating blood seemed like a natural way of offering help as well,” Anne ponders.
Hannu's decision was also affected by an example he had seen in his childhood family.
“My father was a diligent donor and often told us about it. I remember well a story from the late 60s. My father was called to come straight from his job to donate at the hospital, where the bottle of blood had been immediately rushed to the next ward. It was given to a new mother to help her recover from serious loss of blood at delivery. If I understood correctly, the blood transfusion saved the woman's life,” Hannu recalls.
Many years of memories
Over some twenty years, Anne has donated blood more than 40 times. It took a little longer to persuade Hannu to join her, but now he has also donated blood almost 20 times.
“To be honest, I believe that women are much braver in things like this. Men often hesitate, fearing that it will hurt or they will pass out. The last push for me was my father's death, after which I wanted to continue his legacy,” Hannu says.
Anne has some fond memories of donation events over the years. When children were small, they often accompanied her to the donation location. Once, when Juulia saw a lot of people lying on the donation beds, she asked in a clear child's voice: “Mom, are all these people here dead?” “Not at all, on the contrary,” Anne had answered.
A familiar Blood Service nurse also offered the children some juice and buns, since they were in a habit of delighting all the donors alike with their singing. One of their favourites was a classic hymn from Sunday school “Jumalan kämmenellä”.
According to own schedule
Anne reminds people that they do not need to make donating blood a burden for themselves. You can donate whenever it is convenient for you. Anne and Hannu do not donate very often either, since there is no donation centre in their place of residence.
But when they do donate, they make it an event that fits into their programme when they make town visits. The couple always donates together.
“We often combine blood donation to our trips to towns, when we visit our children doing their studies in Tampere, Vaasa or Helsinki. When you donate, you can even enjoy a proper snack in the middle of your shopping round,” Anne says with a twinkle in her eye.
For Anne, donating blood is even useful, since her haemoglobin concentration has always been close to the upper limits.
“In other words, it is a win-win situation: I get my blood count normalised, while being able to help someone else. I must also point out that the Blood Service donation locations always have a very pleasant atmosphere. There you feel very warmly welcome, which is an essential part of your experience of spreading good will,” Anne underscores.
“The nurses are never tired of chatting with the donors. When talking about what is going on in your life, you hardly even notice the actual procedure, and when you leave, the thanks you receive are always heartfelt,” Hannu chimes in.
The couple also has a playful competition relating to blood donation. So far, Anne has always won the game of the highest haemoglobin concentration, whereas Hannu has always succeeded in donating more rapidly than Anne.
Small effort, major significance
Hannu reminds people that you never know when you or someone you love may need blood.
“Donating a half-litre bag of blood requires an insignificant amount of effort compared to all the purposes the blood is used for. Out daughter Juulia is a reminder of this every day,” Hannu underlines.
Today, Juulia is 22 years old and studying for the Bachelor of Social Services degree in Vaasa. Because of her childhood illness, she cannot donate blood, but her older sister, 24-year-old Lotta has
already donated a few times. The Pirttimaa couple has no intention of giving up their common hobby.
“Donating blood just makes us feel so good and gives us such high spirits that we will certainly continue this for as long as the rules will allow,” the couple says with almost one voice.
In 2014, the age limit for donating blood was raised to 70 years of age. Raising the age limit has given several thousands of donors an opportunity to continue helping patients.
Text: Minna Kalajoki / Mediafocus
Photos: Suvi Elo