Every 18 minutes in New Zealand, someone needs blood. For some, it's the difference between life and death.

Sir Graham Henry is teaming up with New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) and making it his mission to ensure the country is match fit by strengthening the nation's most important team, the donor registry.

"Right now, fewer than 4 per cent of eligible New Zealanders are blood donors," says NZBS CEO Sam Cliffe.

"Since 2016 our need for plasma has increased by 38 per cent and is forecast to continue to grow. This year alone we need to collect over 70 tonnes of plasma.

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Brendan and his sister Hayley enjoying a family holiday in Rarotonga, that was only feasible due to the generosity of blood donors. Photo / Supplied
Brendan and his sister Hayley enjoying a family holiday in Rarotonga, that was only feasible due to the generosity of blood donors. Photo / Supplied

Two examples of local recipients whose lives have changed thanks to the generosity of blood donors are:

BRENDAN JUDD: At his most vulnerable stage in life, an unidentifiable illness left eight-month-old Brendan constantly fighting infections. 11 years on, thanks to New Zealand's generous donors and their donations, a weekly plasma-derived product has not only kept Brendan alive, it has let him live. Brendan receives weekly blood product known as EVOGAM (plasma derived product.

MAREKO RATU: Tania's son Mareko Ratu was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at just five days old. As a newborn, he underwent five sessions of chemotherapy and a number of blood transfusions. The chemotherapy targeted a tumour that was invading Mareko's liver and although he had spent less than two weeks in the world, doctors compared his liver function to that of a 70 year old alcoholic. After just six months of life, Mareko had endured a total of five chemotherapy sessions and a staggering 35 blood transfusions before he could go home from the hospital. Although he doesn't remember the treatment, the cancer will affect him for the rest of his life. He still requires ongoing oncologist appointments, ultrasounds and heart checks, he'll never be able to drink alcohol and he has permanent partial hearing loss as a result of his treatment but Mareko marches on.

Mareko Ratu with his Mum Tania. Photo / Supplied
Mareko Ratu with his Mum Tania. Photo / Supplied

Since 2016 our need for plasma has increased by 38 per cent and is forecast to continue to grow. This year alone we need to collect over 70 tonnes of plasma.

"Relying on just 4 per of our population to ensure lifesaving blood and blood products are available for all, is no longer feasible. If the country is going to be able to continue to meet demand, we need more people to rise to the challenge and help us build the world's biggest reserve bench," says Ms Cliffe.

She says all New Zealanders understand the need to have a strong reserve bench. It's what makes our sporting teams so great. So, what better person to lead the rallying call for 100,000 new donors than Sir Graham Henry, a man who knows more than a thing or two about building a world-class reserve bench.

A former blood donor himself, Sir Graham also understands the importance of blood donation.

"I think this could be the most important reserve bench of my career," says Sir Graham.

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"When I found out so few Kiwis donate blood, I was shocked. We need more people to step up and become donors.

The more people that join the reserve bench, the easier it will be for New Zealand to keep up with current and future demand.

We can't continue to expect so few to carry the health of our country."

Joining the reserve bench is not about giving blood right away, it's a commitment to be there when you are needed.

Reaching the goal of 100,000 people on the world's biggest reserve bench will maintain a healthy support system for blood and blood products for the entire country.

"Prior to this campaign, only a select few could claim to have received a call up from Sir Graham Henry, there can be no greater honour than to be chosen to represent your country," says Ms Cliffe

"We are asking for New Zealanders to respond to Sir Graham's call up and join the reserve bench.

Even if you are not eligible to donate, you can still help by encouraging your friends, family and colleagues to join in your place.

Brendan and his sister Hayley enjoying a family holiday in Rarotonga, that was only feasible due to the generosity of blood donors. Photo / Supplied
Brendan and his sister Hayley enjoying a family holiday in Rarotonga, that was only feasible due to the generosity of blood donors. Photo / Supplied

Just like New Zealand's other famous reserve bench, being part of the world's biggest reserve bench will mean you get called on when your country needs you most.

#JOINTHEBENCH It's really simple to get involved. All you need to do is visit www.jointhebench.co.nz. Once you've signed up, don't forget to encourage family and friends by sharing Sir Graham's video.