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'I gave blood for the first time and the hardest thing was the choice of crisps'

MyLondon logo MyLondon 23/06/2022 Lucy Williamson

When most people think of donating blood, they think of needles, people fainting and a whole load of blood. What I think of, is eating as many crisps as possible. I recall trips as a child every few months to the blood donation van with my Dad when he went to give blood in our local village. Without the watchful eye of my Dad, I'd steal the crisps, meant for patients, and attempt the World Record for the most packets of crisps a 12-year-old can eat in 20 minutes.

As an adult giving blood for the first time today, I can say my experience is pretty much unchanged. Giving blood is essentially one of the only times an NHS nurse will insist on a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar. Saving lives while eating crisps; my ideal activity. If you're thinking about giving blood for the first time - here's my experience.

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The chair can be flipped down if the donator feels dizzy (like me) © MyLondon The chair can be flipped down if the donator feels dizzy (like me)

Inspired by my own flesh and blood (My Dad), I booked an appointment very easily on www.blood.co.uk and had an appointment for the morning after. I attended the West End Donor Centre, next to Oxford Circus for 11:30am. Usually, my trips to Oxford Circus are about putting shopping, rather than blood, into a bag. But this time I was hoping it wasn't going to be a 'shop til' you drop' situation.

First I answered every question under the sun about my medical history. There are various reasons why someone can't give blood, including recent travel to specific countries or being pregnant. But the consulting nurse was extremely thorough and reassuring. I had my finger pricked to test a drop of my blood and find out if I had enough iron in my body to actually give blood, which I did. Something I was pleased to hear given my vegetarian diet.

And with the nurse's go-ahead, I was ready to get in the chair and do the deed. I sat in a clinic, which had about six others patients in it. After my so-called 'Donate Carer' Stefania Acsente cleaned my arm and checked my vein, the needle was ready to go in. I chose the look away and hope for the best approach and after a slight pinching sensation; the blood was flowing.

All I could think about was how amazing it was that my blood, which I largely don't think about, was coming out of my body, to help another person and it would replace itself, all without me thinking about it.

I followed instructions to clench my arm and bum to ensure the blood kept flowing around my body. It took only 15 minutes to donate my total around 450ml of my blood which is a little under one pint of blood and according to NHS England, that volume can save up to three lives.

As the needle came out, I did feel a little queasy. The nurses quickly flipped my chair, so my legs were above my head and welcomingly fanned me with a clipboard. This quickly helped and I chilled for 10 minutes watching Bargain Hunt (or equivalent daytime show) on the TV screen, eating mini cheddars and drinking squash. A dream combo.

There was a choice of Cheese & Onion or Ready Salted crisps or mini cheddars as well as some club bars. 'Yes to to all' wasn't an option - but the mini cheddars were *chefs kiss*.

Bargain Hunt (or similar) was playing as I munched on my mini cheddars © MyLondon Bargain Hunt (or similar) was playing as I munched on my mini cheddars

Speaking to my Donor Carer afterwards, Stefania, 22, she said largely people are absolutely fine giving blood, albeit sometimes feeling queasy as I did. The path to becoming a donor carer involves only a six-week training programme which can be done without a medical background. Another carer said she was a teaching assistant in her previous job.

The centre I attended needs 7,074 new donors over the next year, according to NHSBT. While some people have donated upwards of 100 times and do so every 16 weeks, new blood donors are needed each year to replace those who stop donating and to ensure the right mix of blood groups to match patient needs.

Saving Lives - all in a days work © Lucy Saving Lives - all in a days work

Last year, hospitals in London asked for 58per cent more R o blood than they did five years ago. NHSBT can only supply the best-matched blood for around half the requests, due to the shortage of black donors. R o is urgently needed to treat people with sickle cell disease, the fastest growing genetic disease in the UK.

Both R o blood and sickle cell are more common in people of black heritage. Around 80pc of all the R o needed in England is needed by patients in London. The hospitals which requested the most over the past year were University College London, Guy’s Hospital, and St George’s Hospital.

Sickle cell is a genetic disorder which causes red blood cells to form into sickle or crescent shapes and become stuck in blood vessels, causing agonising crisis episodes and serious or even fatal long term complications including organ damage and strokes.

Many people with sickle cell rely on regular blood transfusions to stay alive. This blood needs to be well-matched and people of the same ethnicity are more likely to be a match. Shalona Willie, 34, from Hackney, has sickle cell and has received blood transfusions several times and will need more in the future.

She said: “What I say to explain a sickle cell crisis is, imagine the worse pain you’ve ever felt in your life – whether it’s toothache, a headache, banging your toe and imagine it intensifying with every heartbeat – that is what it is like.

“Blood transfusions make a massive difference, they give me a new lease of life. If you’ve not thought about donating blood, definitely think about it. If you are thinking about it, please do it.”

On reflection, there can surely be no better excuse to guzzle on choccy biscuits than having selflessly given blood to save someone’s life, and now needing to restore your depleted blood sugar! You deserve it – enjoy.

NHSBT has 25 permanent donor centres in London (Tooting, Edgware, West End, Shepheard’s Bush and Stratford)

Got a health-related story you want to share? Get in touch lucy.williamson@reachplc.com

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