By Chris Gallagher

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese star swimmer Rikako Ikee, who stunned fans last year with news she was battling leukemia, has launched an urgent appeal for people to give blood after steps to curb the spread of coronavirus led to a sharp drop in donations.

Ikee, who left hospital in December and has vowed to target the Paris 2024 Olympics, said on Twitter there were people whose lives depended on donations and the “drastic decrease” was causing anxiety.

“It’s a difficult time due to the spread of the coronavirus, but even now blood donations are needed with the cooperation of many people,” she tweeted.

“I was also in the haematology department so I deeply feel the importance of blood transfusions,” she said.

“Even one life can save many people’s lives.”

Ikee, 19, burst into the spotlight at the 2018 Asian Games where she won six titles. She was seen as a strong medal contender for this year’s Tokyo Olympics until she was diagnosed with leukemia in February last year.

She has since become an inspiration outside the pool as well, for others fighting their own medical battles, and has now used her public platform to bring attention to the decline in blood donations.

Blood donations are crucial for a wide range of patients from those with cancer or anemia to accident victims and mothers suffering labor complications.

But the Japanese Red Cross said measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak, including the cancellation of public events and encouraging people to stay home for work, have made it hard to carry out blood drives.

Some 13,000 donations are needed every day but the Japanese Red Cross has missed this target since the week of Feb. 16.

“This situation is expected to increase and it is feared it will be difficult to maintain a stable inventory of blood products as the number of donors decreases,” the organization said. “We sincerely ask for your cooperation in donating blood.”

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher)