For a few decades of his life, MJ Paul was a raging alcoholic, and couldn’t carry out any of his daily activities or even perform his job without a drink.
“It was so bad that I needed a drink right after waking up or else my hands would start trembling. One day, my wife, Jonamma, decided that she’d had enough and left home with my three-year-old daughter,” says Paul.
Even so, Paul continued drinking unabated until an incident forced him to take a long, hard look at himself.
“I was working as a driver in Alappuzha, and remember that day very well. I was driving a van with almost 20 pilgrims travelling to Sabarimala and was hardly in my senses. Suddenly, the vehicle took a sharp turn and crashed. While the passengers were safe, I lost my job. This accident was a blessing in disguise because thanks to it, I decided to quit drinking completely and start living,” he recalls.
Shortly after, Paul started working as a driver for a fish distributor. One day, he found out that a co-worker was looking for blood donors for her grandmother’s operation. “She was looking for an O-negative blood donor, and I was one, so I went ahead. The happy faces that followed the donation made me feel so wonderful,” Paul remembers.
A “universal red cell donor,” the O-negative blood type occurs in 1 of every 15 people across the world. In India, only 7 per cent of the population has this blood type.
When Paul realised that something as simple as his blood could make a huge difference and save lives, he decided that there was no turning back.
“Till date, I’ve donated blood to more than 80 people. I can donate blood every three months, and it’s something I’ve been doing consistently for more than 25 years now. The state government celebrated my silver jubilee of blood donation and even honoured me as one of the best blood donors in Kerala.” he adds.
Along the way, he reconciled with the people he had previously alienated—including his wife.
“The people who had once ridiculed me because of my callous lifestyle started respecting me for what I did. My life started getting better after that and I started qualifying for better jobs through PSC exams– I first got a job as a driver in the KSRTC. After working there for a while, I moved on to a better paying job at the state electricity board. Jonamma, too, returned home when she saw that I was trying hard to turn my life around,” he explains.
Paul recalls that one of his fondest memories was giving blood to an infant.
“The one-day-old infant required 100 ml of blood for an immediate operation, and I readily donated it. She survived and today, she is a 17-year old girl who calls me for every single birthday of hers. For her, I was like an angel that saved her life.” he says.
“But there have also been disappointing instances. Once, when I went to donate blood to a man, I found out that the three people that had come along with him, including his son, were of the same blood group, but were too scared to donate. I went ahead, but made sure to talk to them about blood donation later on,“ he explains.
Besides donating blood, Paul also gives awareness talks about its importance. He has even formed a WhatsApp group named Negative—its members, who are spread all over the state, all have unique blood types.
“It started in Cherthala but has become a statewide blood donors group. The kind of impact that we can make today is unbelievable,” he explains.
Paul, who is 60 now, retired from his job at the state electricity board in 2015 and has dedicated himself completely towards blood donation now.
“About 30 years ago I was in horrible shape—I was drinking nonstop, my wife had left me, and I was buried in financial debt. I am grateful for the second chance I received and will continue to help save the lives of others for as long as I can,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)