In 2019 the Town of Oyster Bay in New York State honored Arjun Prasad Mainali, a Nepali-American, recognizing his contribution as a serial blood donor. It even established December 22—the anniversary of the first successful transfusion of human blood—as the World Blood Donor Arjun Mainali Day.
The 52-year-old Mainali has donated blood in rich and poor countries alike after first spending many years in Nepal encouraging blood donation.
Altogether, as of this writing, he has donated blood 186 times (whole blood 126 times and platelets 60 times) and volunteered and helped organize countless blood donation programs in past 33 years. “The volume of blood I have donated amounts to 93 liters, which can save 558 lives,” he says. Mainali has already visited 17 countries across six continents to donate blood and promote blood donation.
In 2014, he donated whole blood six times and platelets 13 times, in what was a world record for the year.
Mainali’s blood-donation journey started on 20 August 1987, when he donated for the first time at Bishal Bazaar, Kathmandu. While he was in college in 1986, there was a chapter in his course book named ‘The Blood Donor’ featuring an American who saved lives by donating his blood. “I was inspired, and when I learned of an ongoing blood donation program organized by Lions Club, I too donated blood for the first time,” he explains.
After that, he became a regular donor, and a blood-donation activist. At first, his immediate family and relatives tried to dissuade him from donating, because they feared he would get physically weak (which was a bogus fear, as he later discovered). Yet he was undeterred.
He felt it necessary to encourage blood donation in Nepal when he saw a person fearing to donate blood even to his wife. “I then started spreading awareness on blood donation all over Nepal with the help of other donors. And it is something I have been doing for over three decades,” he says.
“We formed the Nepal Blood Donors Club in 1990, which is now known as the Blood Donors Association of Nepal,” Mainali remembers. On 5 December 1990, the association even conducted an all-Nepal cycle tour to spread awareness.
In the same year, recognizing his contribution to blood donation, Leo Club’s central office gave him the responsibility of leading its Blood Donation Committee. The rest, as they say, is history.
In the first phase of the Covid-19 lockdown in Nepal, he coordinated with Nepali blood donors to meet blood scarcity and sent Rs 50,000 for the cause. “We managed to collect around 7,000 pints of blood at the time,” he recalls. These days, he even gives prize money for well-known and dedicated blood donors across Nepal.
In the late 1980s, donating blood was a new idea in Nepal. “We tried to spread awareness and persuade people to give blood. Gradually, the number of donors increased,” he says. Mainali is thus one of the pioneers of blood donation in Nepal.
After his initiation on blood donation in Nepal, Mainali’s dedication to donation continued after he reached America in 2000. “We have conducted blood donation programs in 14 American states under my initiative,” he says. In 2009, Mainali established the Blood Donors of America and, in 2014, the International Nepalese Blood Donors.
Traveling to different countries is both costly (he bears the cost out of his own pocket) and tiresome, yet the cause is worth it, he says.
He remembers the days he traveled to Africa to educate people there about blood donation. He had to borrow $2000 from his office as he was short of money at the time. Even today, Mainali says he spends all his income from an insurance company on blood donation-related activities and it is his wife who runs the family.
Mainali has run blood-donation campaigns around the world, “having spent over Rs 10 million for the cause”.
For his contribution, Mainali has gotten numerous awards in Nepal, Africa, and America. Mainali estimates his efforts have contributed to educating over 200,000 people on the importance of blood donation, among whom 15,000 ended up donating blood.
Though he has founded some organizations, he says there is no self-interest involved. “I am not directly involved in running any of them,” he asserts.
He urges people to donate blood at least once a year. “What better day to do it than on your birthday?” he asks.