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'Saving lives' - Pio Terei urges more Māori and Pasifika to donate blood

There’s a desperate need for more Māori and Pasifika to donate blood, something entertainer Pio Terei knows all too well. 

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Terei, who lost his son to leukemia in 2017, is creating safe spaces so people feel comfortable donating. Source: Breakfast

Terei lost his 17-year-old son Teina to acute myeloid leukemia in 2017. A bone marrow transplant is an effective tool against the cancer. But, patients like Teina can face long waiting lists and there must be a match between donors and recipients. 

On Saturday, Terei and his wife Debbie held a blood drive in Hamilton which targeted Māori and Pasifika. They wanted to create a space where anyone felt comfortable to donate because while blood can be matched across ethnicities, they say Māori and Pasifika are under-represented as donors. 

They also want more Māori and Pasifika to donate to the bone marrow registry. 

Terei told Breakfast encouraging people to give blood was “a journey” of education. 

“They just take it out of your blood, they’re not going to drill your arm or anything! A lot of our whānau don’t know about this.”  

He said for people whose whakapapa is Māori or Pasifika, they fell into a pool of between 6000 to 10,000 donors to choose from for a bone marrow match. For people of other ethnicities, their bone marrow registry worldwide could be as high as 20 million. 

Terei is on a mission to create a “warm, positive space” for all to become donors, no matter their ethnicity. 

Despite the bad weather, “people just kept coming and coming and coming”, he said. While people waited to donate blood, there was music and a Māori-tailored menu.

“We created a safe space for our whānau to go, ‘this feels cool, I understand the story, it’s an environment where I feel comfortable, it’s not so clinical’. The results — it went through the roof. We’re so blessed to have that sort of reaction,” Terei said.

The blood drive was organised by Terei’s Trust Teina, which collaborated with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and NZ Blood Services.

By the end of Saturday, they were 30 per cent above their blood donation target, and 16 young Māori men, their target demographic, signed up for the bone marrow register. 

“Our people needed a waka to jump on to show how much they cared. And they just fronted up,” Terei said.

He also acknowledged that in Te Ao Māori, blood is considered tapu, and that this perspective was valid. However, Terei said it was equally valid to donate blood to help others. 

What needed to happen now was a conversation about the two perspectives, he said.

In the meantime, Terei is proud to carry on his son’s legacy. 

Source: Breakfast

“Grief is on my shoulder all the time, and with my wahine as well. But, our boy’s name, his legacy … his motivation for us is hopefully saving lives.”