The largest blood donor in the country is in Quebec

Surrounded by his family, Mr. Bernier celebrated his 1600th donation of blood products to Héma-Québec on Wednesday. A historic record in the country, and perhaps even in the world.

Extremely moved, the Shannon resident remembers with humility how he came to break such an important record.

“I had just turned 18, it was in 1971,” recalls the man from a family of 10 children. Just out of high school, he worked during the summer to be able to afford a higher education.

“My parents taught us to help those who need it. Financially, I couldn’t because I was saving all my dollars to study.”

— Jean Bernier, largest donor in the country

Jean Bernier therefore made the decision to give differently, by making his very first blood donation.

At the time, he went to a mobile Red Cross clinic, Héma-Québec having only been created in 1998.

Jean Bernier makes his 1600th donation, a historic record in the country. (Frédéric Matte)

One thing led to another, Jean Bernier got into the habit of donating blood four times a year — the limit allowed at the time — and then every two months. He was at the forefront when plasma and platelet donations arrived, which he continues to do regularly. It is possible to donate plasma every six days.

This is how the donor reached the rare milestone of 1,500 donations in February 2023, then 1,600 donations on Wednesday. “It’s a Canadian record, and we’re wondering if it’s a world record for unpaid plasma donations,” explains Héma-Québec’s vice-president of medical affairs, Dr. Marc Germain.

Save lives and inspire

“At the start, the only goal was to save lives. No other reason than that,” recalls the great donor. Over the years, Jean Bernier found another reason to continue giving.

“We were told by the Red Cross, and then by Héma-Québec, that not many people give. “It’s less than 3% of the overall population that gives,” he reports, unimpressed by this statistic.

“So today, my goal is more to talk about it, to convince new donors. Young people, but also those not so young!”

— Jean Bernier, largest donor in the country

In addition to people who do not have the health to be able to donate, he hopes to inspire those who procrastinate their visit to Héma-Québec to finally take the plunge. It’s not the 1600th donation or the first donation that is the most important, they are all important,” insists Jean Bernier.

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Dr. Marc Germain, vice-president of medical affairs at Héma-Québec, emphasizes the importance of plasma donations. (Frédéric Matte/Le Soleil)

“Making the effort to donate once a year, ideally twice, is a huge service to the health system,” continues Dr. Germain, vice-president at Héma-Québec. The organization has particularly pressing needs for plasma donations, the only blood product that Quebec must purchase in the United States.

Héma-Québec is currently only 31% self-sufficient in plasma donations, and hopes to reach 50% in the coming years by seeking new donors. “We make medicines with [le plasma]medicines that cannot be manufactured otherwise,” says Dr Germain.

From the National Assembly to space

The honors have come one after the other for the largest donor in Canadian history.

Last week, Mr. Bernier received the medal of recognition from the National Assembly, directly from Minister Christian Dubé.

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Jean Bernier, surrounded by other donors who have crossed the threshold of 1000 donations of blood products. (Frédéric Matte/Le Soleil)

On Wednesday, a trophy was presented to the hero of the day, as well as a special gift from astronaut David Saint-Jacques. The doctor and astrophysicist sent a personalized dedication reading: “To Jean Bernier, the champion of Héma-Québec. On behalf of all blood donation recipients (including me), congratulations and thank you! Ad astraDavid Saint-Jacques.”

It was a “fantastic” surprise for Mr. Bernier, who even dreamed of being an astronaut and applied twice to the Canadian Space Agency.

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