Ken Mason felt it first in his legs, a sudden slowness then a shortness of breath trying to keep pace with the 15-year-old hockey players he was coaching at the St. James Civic Centre.
For Mason, it was unusual — then 25, he was quite fit and had been skating effortlessly since he was six years old.
"I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and kept losing stamina and wasn’t able to do things I had always done and enjoyed," said Mason, now 31, and manager of the North Y Youth Centre in the North End.
"It got to the point where I couldn’t play with preschoolers in the gym at the Y. I would be totally wiped out."
Two years and countless stomach ills, bodily infections and medical tests later, doctors delivered an answer: Mason had common variable immunodeficiency, a genetic condition affecting one in 50,000 that leaves the body with a shortage of the necessary antibodies to fight off infections.
Each day for the last four years, Mason has had to inject himself with a specialized and highly expensive blood product called subcutaneous immune globulin (SCIg) to give him the necessary amount of white blood cells to keep his immune system strong enough to keep him healthy.
"It’s literally saving my life every week," said Mason.
On Fri., March 1, the West Portage Y will host a blood donor clinic in honour of Mason and long-time Camp Stephens alum Les Robinson.
The drive will support Canadian Blood Services (CBS), which is hoping to collect 6,000 blood donations and register 400 donors into its program from Manitoba throughout March.
Most of that blood will stay in the province to meet the forecasted demand at local hospitals, according to Jennifer Stewart Larsen, community development co-ordinator for CBS.
One blood donation can save up to three lives, Stewart Larsen said, meaning Manitoba’s contributions can help up to 18,000 people.
"It seems like a lot, but with one car accident victim, they can get up to 50 units of blood, so you can see how it gets used up quickly," she said.
There are many reasons to donate blood, Stewart Larsen added.
"What it comes down to is one in three people you know is going to be a recipient," she said.
"While able and healthy, we’d like to see people become a donor themselves and contribute to the blood supply that needs to be there where their friend or family needs it."
At the March 1 clinic, Elmwood resident Les Robinson will give his 81st donation.
Robinson started donating while attending university in the early 1980s, and is chasing his dad’s personal record of 100 donations. He plans to donate blood until he’s 60, as long as he’s able bodied.
"By giving blood, I’m trying to get the word out," said Robinson, 52, who first met Mason at Camp Stephens in 2005.
"Instead of saying ‘Hey, go give blood,’ I’m saying ‘Come give blood with me.’
"I’m not going to ask someone to do something I can’t do myself."
The West Portage Y is located at 3550 Portage Ave. The clinic will take place from 4 to 7 p.m.
For more, visit www.blood.ca or call 1-888-2DONATE.