The need goes on #11: Plasma product keeps father, former politician going
Blair Yakimoski uses his experience living with a rare blood disorder to build connections.
At around age five, Blair Yakimoski began to experience the symptoms of hereditary angioedema (HAE), a rare disease affecting about 700 Canadians. It’s caused by a problem with the gene that makes a blood protein called C1 inhibitor, resulting in spontaneous swelling in different areas of the body. For Blair, these attacks occur most frequently in his digestive system, resulting in extreme pain, vomiting, and debilitation. Sometimes it happens in his throat, which is life-threatening.
“When I have an attack, if it’s in my digestive system, the pain’s so bad I wish I were dead; if it’s in my throat, I’m scared I could actually die,” he says.
Blair manages his symptoms with a plasma protein product provided through Canadian Blood Services. About every five to eight days, his wife Amy, who is also a nurse, infuses him with this medication that prevents his HAE attacks.
Plasma is the protein-rich liquid in blood that helps other blood components circulate throughout the body. Plasma protein products are therapies made of large amounts of donated plasma, which are sent to fractionators who develop specific treatments. Plasma helps patients with immune deficiencies, rare blood disorders, various cancers, tetanus infections, nervous system disorders, bleeding disorders, kidney and liver diseases, severe burns, surgeries, newborns with Rh disease and much more.
Turning the isolation of living with a rare disease into an opportunity for connection
“Growing up, my family just referred to it as ‘our sickness’; I thought it was just something that affected my family and some of my cousins,” Blair says. Over the years, Blair has forged connections with emerging advocacy groups and research organizations and used his skills and relationships to support their work.
Blair uses his experience living with a rare disease to build new relationships everywhere he goes. “You never know who you’re going to connect with and how you can help,” he says. This became especially evident when Blair became a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) in Manitoba, representing the Transcona riding in Winnipeg.
“When I became an MLA, I wondered how I could make a difference. I realized the best thing I could do is bring what I knew best to the table — food safety and access, from my previous role running a grocery store — and knowledge of rare diseases,” he says.
Blair has been an avid supporter of organizations that research and advocate in support of those living with rare diseases. Because of his own experience as a plasma protein product recipient, as well as the fact that a wide array of rare diseases is treated with plasma protein products, Blair has also been a champion of Canadian Blood Services.
He has participated in our Partners for Life program and sponsored a donation event on Christmas Eve where every chair was full. He always takes time to thank donors.
“I can’t give myself, but people who donate literally have the power to save lives. I’m walking proof of that. Thanks to medications that are fairly new, like the one I use, donors are now able to help in more ways than ever,” Blair says.
The risk of COVID-19 is requiring people across Canada to avoid many public spaces. However, blood products remain critical for patients, and our donor centres have enhanced measures for the safety of donors, staff and volunteers. Our website is updated daily with information about our response to COVID-19. To make an appointment you can download the GiveBlood app, call 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) or book now at blood.ca.