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Trucking iron made him snooze

Tuesday, 07 August 2012 15:56

TRUCK driver Chris Blanchard can laugh at the memory now but back in the year 2000 his mates in the industry called him Captain Snooze.

They had good reason because at every opportunity he would climb into his sleeper cab at truck stops and grab 40 winks before hitting the road again hauling freight thousands of kilometres across Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

“Off duty I seemed to feel lethargic most of the time”, recalls Chris, 43, a mechanic by trade who drives for the family haulage business based in Grafton, NSW. “There was this general feeling of overall tiredness. I just didn’t feel good. I felt generally low”

At the time he put this down to depression associated with the recent break-up of his six-year marriage but when the feeling persisted he sought advice from his local GP. Blood tests revealed that Chris, who had played hockey for years and was of above average fitness, was storing higher than normal levels of iron in his body which could have posed serious long-term health risks.

Further tests confirmed the diagnosis that Chris was suffering from iron overload –haemochromatosis - the most common genetic disorder in Australia. His level of serum ferritin, the key indicator of the level of iron stored in the body, was approaching 600, far higher than the normal range among men of between 20 and 300 micrograms per litre. Chris was totally unaware that he was absorbing far more iron than was necessary from his diet – and the body has no way of getting rid of the excess. Even worse he had no idea of what might be the long-term health effects.

“The tests explained a few things,” says Chris who drives a fully laden 48-tonne truck delivering timber poles to power distributors throughout the eastern states. “Suddenly there was a reason why I had a lack of go, a complete lack of oomph. Some evenings after work I’d just sit in a chair and do nothing, not even turn on the TV. I’d just sit and wonder why I felt so low.”

In Chris’ case treatment required donating blood – 500 mls at a time – initially once a month for four months until his iron levels dropped to normal and, on the advice of his doctor, a change in diet. Hamburgers, a long-time favourite, were replaced with chicken and his intake of beer and bottled drinks high in vitamin C, was drastically reduced. Now, thanks

partly to his diet-conscious wife Joanne, salads are regularly on the menu and the pantry is bare of breakfast cereals high in iron. And an evening out at a steak restaurant has become a rarity where once it would have been commonplace in Chris’ lifestyle.

But Chris, who now has a serum ferritin level of around 150, is happy with the lifestyle trade-offs and knows the outcome could have been far different. Left unchecked excess iron stored in organs and joints can lead to serious health risks including cirrhosis, liver cancer and a range of other problems. “I was lucky because I got sorted out in good time,” says Chris whose brother, Michael, also has an above average level of iron as does his 31-year old niece, Lee.

His father, Herbie, had a history of heart problems and, with the benefit of hindsight, Chris wonders whether haemochromatosis might have been a factor in his death at the age of 57.

Chris knows he is one of the lucky ones because haemochromatosis tends to be under-diagnosed partly because its symptoms - including joint pains, abdominal pains and diabetes – are similar to those caused by a range of other illnesses.

“Most people think that iron is good and when they feel not up to scratch they sometimes can put that down to not enough iron but you never think it could be the other way round,” says Chris who is looking forward to playing hockey until he’s in the veterans division. “That’s the real difficulty with haemochromatosis.”

But with early detection haemochromatosis can be treated and is no barrier to a happy and successful life. And with interests ranging from writing a regular column in the industry magazine Big Rigs to landscape photography and weekends spent with Joanne and four-year-old son Alex that’s exactly what Chris Blanchard is enjoying. Captain Snooze is wide awake to his new future.


Contact for Chris Blanchard Mobile: 0438660136 Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Professor Martin Delatycki, Bruce Lefroy Centre for Genetic Health Research (03) 9496 4355

Professor Emeritus Lawrie Powell, University of Queensland, (07) 3646 2352

Professor John Olynyk, Dep’t Gastroenterology, Freemantle Hospital (08) 94312480

Ben Marris, President Haemochromatosis Australia 0428 62674787 or (03)62 674787


Haemochromatosis Australia
Haemochromatosis Australia is the support, health promotion and advocacy group for people with haemochromatosis and their families. The group has operated continuously for 22 years.

Haemochromatosis Australia:

• Is a not for profit group run entirely by volunteers.
• has over 1400 members across Australia.
• operates an Information line 1300 019 028 and informative website.
• publishes two informative booklets and a quarterly newsletter.
• organises local support group and information sessions.

The groups medical advisors include some of the leading academics and clinicians in the field of haemochromatosis, including - Prof Emeritus Lawrie Powell, Prof John Olynyk, Prof Martin Delatycki, Prof Darrell Crawford, Prof Katie Allen

For more information,au


Haemochromatosis, or inherited iron overload disorder, is the most common genetic disorder in Australia. It causes the body to absorb excess iron which builds up in the organs and joints over many years and eventually becomes toxic.

Early symptoms include joint pains, fatigue, weakness and sexual dysfunction.

If untreated it can lead to serious and potentially fatal symptoms including diabetes, liver cancer and cirrhosis, heart failure and osteoarthritis.

Despite being so common (one in 200 have the genetic pre-disposition) it is not well known and is frequently overlooked. Often only the individual symptoms are treated and the underlying cause is not recognised.

Tests for the condition are simple and cheap. If iron studies show raised ferritin on two occasions, or if a first degree relative is diagnosed, then then a genetic test is covered by medicare.

If people are diagnosed early and treated then haemochromatosis is no barrier to a normal healthy life.

Treatment is simple, drug free and uncontroversial. Regular venesection, like giving blood at a blood bank, unloads iron. Often this can be done at the Red Cross Blood Service and the blood is useful.

Haemochromatosis Week

The inaugural Australian Haemochromatosis Week will be held from 13th to 19th August 2012. The purpose of the week is to raise community awareness of the condition and thus improve the rate of early diagnosis.


Sydney Information Session and AGM

We will launch Haemochromatosis Awareness Week at a free public haemochromatosis information session on Saturday 11 August 2012 1.00pm at the Parramatta Town Hall. The session will be followed by the Annual General Meeting of Haemochromatosis Australia.

Port Macquarie Information Session

In the lead-up to Haemochromatosis Awareness Week there will be a free public haemochromatosis information session on Saturday 4 August 2012 at 1pm at the Port Macquarie Panthers Club.

Brisbane Haemochromatosis Seminar

In the lead-up to Haemochromatosis Awareness Week there will be a free haemochromatosis seminar on Wednesday 8 August 2012 from 5.30pm to 7.30pm at QIMR, Herston. The seminar will be chaired by Professor Lawrie Powell, world authority on haemochromatosis. Speakers include scientists and health professionals from QIMR, The University of Queensland, The Australian Red Cross Blood Service and the Haemochromatosis Australia.

Hobart Art Exhibition

A group art exhibition for Haemochromatosis Awareness Week to be held in the Stable Gallery, Cooley's Hotel, Moonah from 10 August until 4 September. All welcome! Grand opening Friday 10 August at 6pm.

Adelaide Information Session

During Haemochromatosis Awareness Week there will be a free public haemochromatosis information session on Tuesday 14 August 2012 at 7pm at Burnside Community Hall, Tusmore.

Perth Information Session

During Haemochromatosis Awareness Week there will be a free public haemochromatosis information session on Thursday 16 August 2012 6.30pm at Fremantle Hospital.

Sunshine Coast, Queensland Information Session

During Haemochromatosis Awareness Week there will be a free public haemochromatosis information session on Sunday 19 August 2012 at 2pm at the Sunshine Beach Surf Club.

Melbourne Information Session

As part of Haemochromatosis Awareness Week events, there will be a free public haemochromatosis information session on Saturday 25 August 2012 at 1pm at the North Melbourne Community Centre.

Gold Coast Information Session

As part of Haemochromatosis Awareness Week events, there will be a free public haemochromatosis information session on Saturday 25 August 2012 at 10 am at the Elanora Public Library