Bloemfontein man’s blood crucial in rabies fight

John Boulle has been donating blood for more than 50 years, and has played an integral part in fighting rabies infections. PHOTO: SUPPLEID

John Philippe Boulle, an almost 70-year-old Bloemfontein man, has played an integral part in the fight against rabies for more than 50 years. The animal scientist forms part of a very select group of blood donors who donate their plasma for the production of the rabies serum used to prevent this terrible disease from taking hold.

Boulle started donating whole blood as a student in 1973 when he was approached by a nurse in Durban who informed him about the special project that he is now part of. “She said that I was a good candidate to come and join the rabies plasma donation panel,” Boulle started. “They injected me and then after that they take a sample of blood to see if your body has reacted to the injection to produce antibodies.”

Boulle’s blood started producing antibodies, which allowed him to join the elite group of plasma donors. “They use the plasma, they extract the air out of the bag and then they freeze it. Then they send it down to Pinetown and it is used to make a rabies serum which, if you get bitten by a rabid dog, helps lock the proteins that come from the rabies virus. It locks the proteins so that you don’t get rabies,” he explained.

The plasma is used to make the rabies serum that saves people from the dreaded disease. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

What makes Boulle’s case so unique is that he last received a booster jab of rabies more than ten years ago. “So what that means is that my body keeps on producing antibodies without being boosted,” he said, “which is a phenomenon which they said they’d never seen before.”

Apart from the times that Boulle has been ill, having previously been infected with malaria in Uganda in the late 1970’s and a time he got Q fever, he has been a committed donor, donating every six weeks.

Boulle’s view every six weeks for over 50 years. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“It’s a privilege to be able to say that it’s happened to me and that I’ve given somebody the opportunity of life,” he said, “I still believe that for as long as I’m healthy and normal, why not do it?”

Boulle went on, saying: “The fact is, when you’ve done a donation like that, you know that you’ve given something for free, and it’s a gift of life to other people.”

John Boulle will be donating his 350th unit of blood on Friday morning at SANBS Victorian Square, and he encourages everyone in the city to become active blood donors.

Warren Hawkins