The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2018

Robert Chew: Lifetime blood donor intends to keep giving

Mr Robert Chew started donating blood when he was 18. That was 51 years go. Now 69, the semi-retired businessman has given blood a total of 184 times to date.
Mr Robert Chew, 69, started donating blood when he was a teenager, and has since donated 184 times, adding up to more than 70 litres of blood, or about 210 cans of drinks.
Mr Robert Chew, 69, started donating blood when he was a teenager, and has since donated 184 times, adding up to more than 70 litres of blood, or about 210 cans of drinks.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year seeks to honour Singaporeans whose extraordinary acts of goodwill have improved their community and the lives of others. Today, The Straits Times announces the last batch of finalists for the fourth edition of the award - a long-time dedicated blood donor, two men who risked their lives to save Thai boys trapped in a cave, a young woman driven by interfaith work, a former businessman serving up free food to the needy and an academic who has advanced the discussion on inequality in Singapore.

The previous nominees announced for this year's ST Singaporean of the Year award were: technopreneur Annabelle Kwok, veteran nurse Harbhajan Singh, teacher Teo Yee Ming, urban farmer Bjorn Low, charity founder Elizabeth Tan, and "parents" to young people, Kenneth and Adeline Thong.

Mr Robert Chew was 18 and on his way to donate blood when he noticed a girl and her mother at the entrance of Singapore General Hospital staring at the people walking in.

He walked up to the girl and asked her why she was there. Nervous and flustered, she said her father was in the hospital and needed blood.

He told her: "Don't worry, just follow me, give me your father's name and I will donate blood to him."

That was 51 years ago and Mr Chew's third blood donation then.

Mr Chew, now 69 and a semi-retired businessman, has given blood a total of 184 times, with the latest donation as recent as Nov 20.

"From early on, I knew my purpose is to donate blood and save as many lives as I can," said Mr Chew, who contributes to the blood bank three to four times a year, every year.

 
 
 
 
 

He is among the oldest and top blood donors in the country, said the Singapore Red Cross, which recruits blood donors.

The blood bank typically draws between 350ml and 450ml of blood from each donor. Mr Chew's 184 donations would have added up to more than 70 litres of blood, or about 210 cans of drinks.

Put another way - Mr Chew has drained his body of blood 18 times over his lifetime as a donor.

The average adult has four to five litres of blood, and only about 10 per cent of blood is drawn for donation. The donated blood volume will be replaced in three days.

Since turning 60, Mr Chew has made sure to go for a medical check-up every year so that he can continue donating blood.

Repeat donors of whole blood, as opposed to blood components like plasma, can donate up to the age of 70. "I don't see a point in stopping my donations despite my age because each donation can save potentially three lives," said Mr Chew. Over five decades, that would mean making a difference to 552 people.

The then teenager had first decided to donate blood back in 1966, when he saw a banner while cycling from his home in Balestier to his father's fruit shop in New Bridge Road. The banner said: "Donate blood, save lives."

His father gave his blessings, but told him to be committed to it. "I am already an optimistic person, but I just feel much happier after every donation," said Mr Chew, who drinks milk every day and eats a balanced diet as well as jogs regularly to be fit enough to donate blood.

His two daughters also donate blood from time to time.

Mr Chew said: "If one wants to start doing something, do it wholeheartedly."


The previous nominees announced for this year’s ST Singaporean of the Year award were: technopreneur Annabelle Kwok, veteran nurse Harbhajan Singh, teacher Teo Yee Ming, urban farmer Bjorn Low, charity founder Elizabeth Tan, and “parents” to young people, Kenneth and Adeline Thong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Lifetime blood donor intends to keep giving'. Print Edition | Subscribe