Human blood is cheaper than printer ink, but to people who need it, whether in an emergency or as a long-term treatment, it is priceless.
Last year the NHS Blood and Transplant Service collected 2.1million donations from 1.6million people – it sounds a lot, but that means just four per cent of population give blood.
Every day, the health service uses an average of 8,000 units for all manner of reasons, to all manner of people.
Scroll through the NHS Blood Donation’s Facebook group, and you will get an idea of just how important the service is to so many people – and it pull your heart strings to breaking point.
Real stories, real difference
One mum posted a massive “thank you” on behalf of her son, who weighed just 3lb 9oz when he was born, because of her undiagnosed preeclampsia.
He had to be looked after on a special care unit, but after two blood transfusions, he has gone from having 22 to 647 platelets, and weighs a “whopping” 8lb 2oz at 10 weeks.
At the other end of the scale, a grandmother is pictured receiving her first bag of blood following a colon cancer diagnosis, the first step on a long and arduous road to recovery.
Another poster thanks donors for helping their mum, who suffers kidney failure and lupus.
“This blood will give her the energy to fight the viral cough she has”, they wrote.
Most people will be familiar with the concept of blood being needed after an accident, not least from the countless television hospital dramas we are subjected to, but the impact these transfusions have on families is far from fictional.
Just before Christmas, a mum of four and grandmother of six was hit by a car being driven by a drunk driver – at midday – suffering internal bleeding and losing more than two litres of blood.
Once in hospital, she needed five units to survive, and, on Mother’s Day, her family thanked blood donors for saving her life.
“She is such a central part of all of our lives and we would be lost without her.
“Thank you to everyone of you who gave blood, and made sure we can tell her how much she means to us this Mother’s Day,” they wrote on the Facebook wall.
I challenge anyone to read these stories and not want to help. Guilt surges in me every time I read or write about the amazing impact these donations have on real people, every day.
Working alongside haematologists means I hear countless stories of children diagnosed with leukaemia needing units and units of blood, or people living with sickle cell disease having to undergo repeated transfusions as a long-term treatment plan.
I am told about transfusions used in palliative care, to improve quality of life in the final months, weeks or even days – blood really is the elixir of life, and it gives people the energy they need to make the most of their last experiences with family and friends.
Most of us feel useless when friends or family are ill. There is nothing we can but offer the usual tea and sympathy, but donating our blood is a real and practical way of making a difference.
As each donation is separated into its individual components which are used in different ways, it can be used to help not just one, but up to three people.
I had to know more.
Sorting the red from the white
Red blood cells are used to replaced heavy blood loss, such as during trauma, surgery or childbirth, or to treat severe anaemia during chemotherapy, or in diseases such as leukaemia and thalassaemia.
Transfusion of white blood cells, which fight infection and are part of the body’s defence system, can be given to patients suffering from life-threatening infections who are not responding to antibiotics.
The tiny fragments of cells called platelets make blood clot, and plasma is what you are left with when you take everything else away.
From this, albumin, a protein used to treat people who have been severely shocked or burned, and Factor VIII, a clotting protein, are extracted.
The team will take just under a pint, about 470mls, which works out to be less than 13% of your blood volume, and your body replaces the missing cells quickly and efficiently. Basically, you won’t miss it.
Tried and failed
Armed with all the facts, it was time to stop thinking and start doing, time to do my bit and become one of those happy, smiling donors I keep seeing on the Facebook feed. Time to make a difference. How hard could it be?
The plan was to go do it, and then write a big myth-busting blog on how easy it was, how it didn’t hurt and how everyone should give it a go.
As I waited my turn in the reclining donation chair, I started thinking about what I would write. I vaguely put together a few paragraphs on how the most painful element was listening to the generic pop being pumped into the hall by the generic radio station.
Finally, I made it to the chair, but alas it was not meant to be, as one nurse then another poked and prodded at my arms in a desperate bid to find a vein big enough to take the needle.
“Sorry, it’s just not going to happen, your veins are too thin,” I am told. I am momentarily happy with the thought of any part of me being “too thin”.
Then I am disappointed. After all the build up, what a let down.
“Have a cup of tea anyway, you did make it down here,” says the nurse supervisor who was called over to see if his superior vein searching skills could detect a suitable specimen.
My guilt, unlike my thirst, was destined to go unquenched.
If your veins are thick enough, you can register to give blood, or find out more, at www.blood.co.uk
Published on: April 17, 2015