NHS Blood & Transplant and Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals call for more black blood donors

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

More black blood donors are being asked to come forward after a 40-year-old woman almost died as a result of the shortage.

Lanre Ogundimu from Lambeth has sickle cell disease, a rare inherited blood disorder, and like many patients she has required blood transfusions to cope with serious and life-threatening complications.

However she nearly died after developing an antibody during a transfusion, and her life was saved by medics at Guy’s Hospital.

She was at greater risk of suffering the transfusion reaction because of the shortage of black people donating blood.

NHS Blood and Transplant and Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals are sharing Lanre’s story to demonstrate the urgent need for more people with black heritage to donate blood.

Sickle cell disease is more common in black people. It can cause loss of sight, organ failure and stroke, and the complications can be fatal.

Many patients need blood transfusions and people from the same ethnic background are more likely to have matching blood.

Lanre can also no longer receive blood transfusions because the risk of another reaction is so high, which makes it harder to treat her complications from her sickle cell disease.

Lanre, a radio producer, had a stroke from sickle cell complications in July 2018. She said: “I woke up and tried to get out of bed and my leg gave way and I just fell over.”

Further tests revealed that her sickle cell had caused several ‘silent strokes’ in her brain, without Lanre knowing.

She was given a blood transfusion to help, but days later became seriously ill, developed blood clots in her lungs and spent several days in critical care at Guy’s.

Dr Jo Howard, consultant haematologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “There is a difference in red blood cell groups between the black and Caucasian population.

“If we give blood from Caucasians to black recipients, even though we match for the major blood groups, there is the possibility of minor blood groups causing a reaction to a blood transfusion.

“If we had more black donors, we could give better matched blood, and patients like Lanre would have a reduced risk of a serious reaction and more chance of being able to benefit from transfusions.

“Now, we would avoid giving blood to Lanre if at all possible as she would be at high risk of having another transfusion reaction.”

The number of black blood donors in England has gone up by 35 per cent in three years, but it’s still far below the level needed to meet the treatment needs of sickle cell disease patients.

Currently 4.2 per cent of the 84,249 Greater London donors are black, while the 2011 census shows 13.3 per cent of the Greater London population is black.

Lanre is aware of the need for more black blood donors, and said: “I think there needs to be more education in schools, and more face-to-face engagement, and the message needs to be simpler.

“There’s love there for one another in the black community. However there’s still some stigma around talking about anything medical, not just blood donation.

If people understand that blood donation saves lives, they will donate.”

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