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Smart Thinking blog

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Why blood donors and a solid national blood bank are vital

By Haifa Ungapen

Haifa Ungapen

I was diagnosed with Thalassaemia at the age of 10 months in Lebanon, five years into a civil war that was to last until 1990. I need 2-3 units every three weeks to survive – and also to thrive.

Finding those monthly blood units I needed in those circumstances was very difficult. In Lebanon, where there is no national blood bank, this is still difficult now! I vividly remember my mum’s long list of donors, sourced through endless requests to people we knew, about whether they had my blood type and would donate, and/or whether they could think of someone else who fit these criteria.

The school notebook that the list was written in got worn out over the years. So did the list. People in it developed various kinds of conditions or contracted infections, meaning they could not donate anymore. My parents would then go on to new quests to find alternative donors.

I took over that mantle when I was a 16-year-old teenager and continued to run with it throughout my university years and my professional life. Asking my boyfriends what their blood type was and would they donate! Calling a friend of a friend of a student at the university I went to, who happened to see my poster about needing blood and called my number. Asking colleagues whether they knew of someone who could donate. It was often humiliating and always a drain on my time and energy.

Landing in the UK in 2005 with a scholarship to complete my Masters was certainly an eye-opening experience, in terms of blood security. I’ve been able to finish school, go to university, find a job, complete two Master degrees, and hold interesting jobs in International Development.

While not an achievement, meeting my husband, Vimalen, in London was certainly a highlight. We met while volunteering at a bone marrow registry drive with a slogan of ‘Find your match’. As it turned out, Vimalen regularly donates blood with the NHS and is “B+”… my blood type!

After returning to the UK in 2009 and living here ever since, I continue to witness the miracles that are blood donors and our NHS blood system. For someone who had been given an estimated eight years of life, 39 years later my life has been a blessing, one that has been made possible only because of generous blood donors.

Article by
Haifa Ungapen

14th June 2020

From: Research, Healthcare

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