JASON Matthews knows he is lucky to be alive.
And while medical treatment was what ultimately kept him going, the father-of-two credits the simple blood tests which identified not one, but two, serious illnesses, as what saved his life.
In fact, he calls pathology professionals the "unsung heroes of health care".
"Last year I started to feel really tired and run down - and I'd been putting on some weight around my face," he explained.
"Initially I just put it down to getting older. But it went on for months and eventually I knew I had to see a doctor.
"I'd get home from work and be passed out on the couch within 15 minutes."
His doctor sent him for blood tests which identified hypothyroidism - a serious infection which, if left untreated, can cause kidney problems and increase cardiovascular risk.
Hypothyroidism affects around 5% of Australians and is caused when the thyroid gland, which secretes hormones to regulate the metabolism, fails to secrete enough hormones into the bloodstream.
That causes the metabolism to slow down - hence Mr Matthew's lack of energy and weight gain.
Although the condition is more prevalent among women, affecting up to 10% of them, it also affects men.
Mr Matthews was prescribed medication and instructed to have regular blood tests to monitor his thyroid function.
Just when he thought his health problems were over, he was hospitalised with a diverticular upset - possibly the result of a bout of irritable bowel syndrome several years earlier.
Once again, it was a blood test that provided a vital diagnosis.
"I thought I was coming down with the flu," he said.
"It came on suddenly one night - I was shivering and had convulsions. I felt really cold so took a hot shower and went to bed.
"The next morning though I felt awful. I went back to the doctor, who assessed my symptoms and sent me for some urgent blood tests.
"The tests confirmed I'd developed sepsis from an infection and I was sent straight to hospital for treatment."
He underwent numerous blood tests in hospital to find the correct antibiotics and monitor his health as well as to diagnose and treat VRE - a superbug he caught as an inpatient.
This year has been a healthier year for Mr Matthews but he says he'll always be grateful for pathology services - and amazed that some people are willing to put their health at risk because they don't like needles.
"I think men think it's not macho to go to a doctor," he said.
"You hear a lot of stories about people who don't like needles but the reality is that they could be putting their lives at risk.
"Even some of the biggest and toughest blokes go white and pass out at the sight of a needle but I've had so many over the years that I'm a bit like a human pin-cushion.
"All I can say to them is suck it up.
"Close your eyes and look away; think of some good thoughts.
"It could help save your life. It saved mine twice last year."
And he can't speak highly enough of the men and women who work in pathology.
"We take it for granted that there are these people devoting their lives to treating us in pathology labs, but they don't get enough credit.
"They're really the unsung heroes of the health care system."
* Wednesday was International Pathology Day and Pathology Awareness Australia (PAA) has launched Know Pathology Know Healthcare - an initiative aimed at demystifying pathology testing for the general public and increasing understanding of pathology's role in diagnosis and treatment.
Visitors to www.knowpathology.com.au can read real-life stories about how pathology saves lives as well as search for information about blood and tissue tests in plain English using the Lab Tests Online database.
The content is written by Australian pathologists and is government funded so patients can trust it is accurate and unbiased.
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