Every family has at least one member who has required a blood transfusion at some point in their lives. This can range from a road accident where the victim has lost a large amount of blood, to sufferers of blood disorders. Cases such as leukaemia, sickle cell and anaemia are rising so therefore, more black blood donors are desperately needed.
But why us? Why black blood donors specifically?
You may have heard of phrases such as “we all bleed the same no matter your race” etc. This out-dated myth could not be further from the truth. They were floating around before blood types (A, B, AB and O) were discovered in the early 1900s.
The vast majority of blood transfusions are not specific to racial or ethnic groups. However, certain blood diseases are. The most commonly known blood disorder, Sickle Cell Anaemia, mainly affects people of African and Caribbean origin.
There are thousands of sickle cell sufferers in Britain. Many of them require regular blood exchanges to stay alive. There is a very rare blood subtype called Ro, which is only found in black people. Because of this, only black blood donors with the Ro subtype match the blood suitable for sickle cell patients.
In the UK around 300 babies a year are born with Sickle Cell Disorder. Bone marrow and Sickle Cell cases are rising and there’s not enough black blood donors to offer them life-saving treatment. Details on how to register are on the NHS Blood Donor’s website www.blood.uk and registration takes about two minutes.
Donating blood for the first time
Once registered, you will be contacted by the NHS to arrange a time for you to donate blood. You will then receive a short questionnaire form in the post to establish whether you are eligible to make a blood donation or not. It will save time if you fill out the questionnaire before the appointment date.
If you are a drinker or smoker, it would be wise stay away from cigarettes and alcohol a day or two beforehand. Also drink plenty of water and eat a healthy meal before attending the blood donation centre. This will make it easier for the machine to extract your healthy blood.
You will be asked to identify yourself when you arrive at the blood donation centre. They will also ask you for the questionnaire form if you have filled it out. You will then be screened and your blood tested for iron to ensure that your blood is suitable for donating. You will also be given the opportunity to become a bone marrow donor on your visit.
The Blood Donation Process
Short film of Richard Eugene from Black Blood Donors giving a blood donation.
If there’s enough blood iron, you will be taken to the area where they attach you to a machine. Although they will insert a needle in your arm to extract blood, the process is swift and painless. 470 ml of blood is taken and the process lasts for about 10 minutes. A blood donor card will be delivered within a week or so, along with a letter detailing your blood group. Your blood will be tested for infections and whether it’s healthy or not, will be explained in the letter.
Is it safe to give blood?
The average adult has around 10 pints of blood flowing around the body. You can safely afford to lose about 3 pints of blood before your condition gets critical. If you lose more than 3 pints then you would probably need a blood transfusion. Therefore, losing 1 pint is well within the safety range of blood loss. Rest assured the NHS blood technicians at the donation centre are fully trained and know exactly what they are doing.
Refreshments and a short rest may be needed because in some cases people feel slightly faint for a few minutes afterwards. The medical staff will then advise you not to do any strenuous work and to avoid alcohol for several hours. You will then be offered something to eat and drink before leaving the centre. In addition, you will be advised to wait at least 12 weeks before making another blood donation.
I’m ready to help save a life. What’s the next step?
Making a blood donation gives you a sense of achievement because you have just saved someone’s life. Black blood and bone marrow donors are desperately needed, especially with the growing number of sickle cell cases in Britain.
Save a life. Register so that you too can give blood.
- Donate at the NHS Blood & Transplant Service here.
- Film produced by Logo St. Marketing.
- NHS info on Sickle Cell Disorder.
Arya, 12, from Cambridge was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia in July 2020. Aplastic anaemia is a life threatening condition in which the body stops producing new blood cells that are needed to carry oxygen, prevent infection and to stop bleeding.
Arya is in desperate need of a blood stem cell transplant in order to give her a second chance of life. Unfortunately no-one in Arya’s family is a match so the family are relying on a complete stranger to help save Arya’s life.
The search to find this stranger is made even more challenging as Arya is of mixed heritage being half Indian and half Caucasian. Arya’s best chance of a match is from someone of Indian or mixed Indian/Caucasian origin.
Her Mum, Brundha and Dad, Geraint are appealing for more people to take the first step and register as potential blood stem cell donors, particularly people of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. By requesting a home swab kit from DKMS, they may hold the correct HLA –typing to allow Arya to have a life saving stem cell transplant.
People from black, Asian or other backgrounds have just a 20% chance of finding the best possible stem cell donor match, compared to 69% for northern European backgrounds – so it is essential for more people from diverse backgrounds to register as potential blood stem cell donors.
Brundha said: “Prior to her diagnosis Arya was fit and healthy. She loved to play sport and is very athletic, she swam, ran (100m sprints), played netball, hockey and was always on the trampoline and her zest for life was infectious.”
Geraint added “There is someone out there who is a match with Arya. By having more people from a diverse range of backgrounds on the register Arya and countless others may be able to find that all important match. They may be in the UK, USA, India or another country. We just need people to come forward and join the DKMS stem cell register. It is really straightforward to do and you could help save the life of someone like Arya.”’.
Despite Arya’s life changing diagnosis and the constant stays in hospital, whilst having immunosuppressive treatment, she remains positive and is hopeful of a matching donor being found.
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Michelle Hemmings hosting
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Beverley & Orin De-Gale
Co Founders & Directors of ACLT.
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