PEI

'Really incredible': Islander living with Type 1 diabetes excited to give blood for the first time

Canadians living with Type 1 diabetes are now eligible to give blood — and for one Islander, the news has led to a thrilling first.

Diabetes advocate also pleased legislative committee endorsed his suggestions

Islander Brooks Roche made his first donation of blood on April 21, and had already booked his next appointment before he left the clinic. (Submitted by Brooks Roche)

Canadians living with Type 1 diabetes are now eligible to give blood — and for one Islander, the news has led to a thrilling first.

The change was announced March 15, and allows anyone living with diabetes to donate if they are managing the disease through either diet or insulin, and haven't had an acute diabetic incident within the last three months. 

"Our eligibility criteria is always under review, and does evolve constantly," said Peter MacDonald, director of donor relations and collections for Canadian Blood Services in Atlantic Canada.  

"For example, prior to this change related to diabetes, some of the eligibility for cancer, which was at one point a lifetime deferral, then evolved to five years," MacDonald said. 

Peter MacDonald, with Canadian Blood Services, said the organization's eligibility criteria are always under review, and evolving. (Canadian Blood Services)

"Now people after a five-year window who have had certain cancers are eligible as donors, so I'd always encourage anyone to check on their eligibility."

'Really incredible'

Prince Edward Islander Brooks Roche made his first donation on April 21 in Charlottetown.

"It was really incredible. Donating blood is such a tangible way of making an impact on other peoples' lives," Roche said.

"Once it was available, I leaped right on it. And it was pretty incredible to just have that sense of at last being able to to make that impact."

Roche said not being able to donate blood had frustrated him in the past.
 
"There are 330,000 Canadians and a little over 1,000 Islanders living with Type 1 diabetes, and those are folks that simply, because of an arbitrary restriction that had been in place, weren't able to do this," Roche said.

"I had always had this sense of frustration, knowing that the evidence pointed in the opposite direction. And to see that finally shift and to have the opportunity — it's wonderful."

Roche said being able to donate blood is also a way of combatting some of the stigma that is associated with Type 1 diabetes. (Brady McCloskey)

Roche said it's also important to him as someone living with Type 1 diabetes to show that he is able to give back, despite his disease.

"It's also a way of combatting some of the stigma that is associated with Type 1 diabetes, recognizing this is a non-transmissible disease, it's an unpreventable, incurable disease," Roche said.

"This is simply another barrier that didn't need to be there. It's a way of feeling like I can contribute to my community, to the world around me. And I think that makes a real impact for people that live with this disease." 

That translates to a whole lot of pints of blood and a whole lot of of medical impact.—Brooks Roche

Roche said there are no official figures yet as to how many people living with Type 1 diabetes have become donors since the change was announced. 

"Anecdotally, I have seen quite an outpouring of folks living with Type 1 diabetes that are driven by that ability to finally contribute, and these are folks from all across the country,"  Roche said.  

"That translates to a whole lot of pints of blood and a whole lot of of medical impact."

Recommendations adopted

Roche said he is also "thrilled' that the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development adopted all of the recommendations that he made in a presentation to them in February.

The committee tabled its report last week in the P.E.I. Legislature.

Roche presented to the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development in February 2021. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly )

Roche said the recommendations include removing an age limit on the provincial insulin pump program, granting public coverage for continuous glucose monitors, adding public funding for amputation prevention devices, and increasing access to blood glucose test strips. 

"Allowing these mechanisms to be in place, allowing people regardless of age or income to access these technologies and treatments, is what's going to set individuals up for greater success and greatest quality of life," Roche said.

"So personally, it meant a great deal. And on behalf of the community, and all those thousands of individuals that are impacted by this, it's incredibly meaningful."

Since his presentation to the committee, Roche has been hired by Diabetes Canada as part of the organization's public affairs and advocacy team.

In the 2021 budget address, the P.E.I. finance minister announced an additional $1 million has been designated to provide support for individuals with diabetes in the province.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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