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Humans of Blood Donation - Steve Harrison

In 2018, we shared a story by the journalist and best-selling author Caitlin Moran about donating blood for the first time in almost 20 years. The scene she painted – one of “hot dust, floor polish and tea” and “love for someone you’ve never met” – resonated with many donors.

In fact, there were so many positive responses in the days and weeks that followed, and so many donors replied with wonderful and heart-warming stories of their own that we decided we ought to make it a regular feature Humans of Blood Donation.

Our first contributor is Steve Harrison, from Cheshire

It is one of those late winter evenings that you would expect in the north west of England: cold, dark and damp. I will use my big northern coat for the 13-minute walk to Edgeley Park.

I go there a lot. Usually I am on my way to get a match ticket, or on match days and nights I am going to the ground, to the Cheadle End where I sit. The noisy end. I go to watch our local heroes of Stockport County AFC.

But tonight, as I cross Alexandra Park and turn right down Hardcastle Road there is no welcoming glow of the floodlights, no hubbub of fans arriving, of raffle ticket and programme sellers. The ground is in darkness except for a welcoming glow from TNT Suite Number 2 under the Cheadle End, and the sense of anticipation is significantly different.

As I enter, I am greeted by the familiar sound of beeping machines, and the welcoming efficiency of the Plymouth Grove team from NHS Blood and Transplant as they go about the important business of taking blood donations.

Blood donor Steve Harrison outside Stockport County's Edgeley Park

I register and the smile is warm but accompanied by the apology that they are running 40 minutes late. Would I like to cancel or rebook? But I take the responsibility, indeed the privilege of being a blood donor seriously, and so have booked for a time when I know I can be flexible, just in case.

The reason for the delay? The team plan for 20 per cent of the bookings not to show up, or maybe to be unable to donate. But this is Stockport. Everyone is here.

The machine pings and we are away. I take my phone from my pocket and look at photos of my two-month-old granddaughter Abi; I have a few hundred.

I read again the instruction booklets to make sure I am familiar with what is about to happen, and the tiny risks involved. I drink my big glass of water, settle down to do emails, and start to prepare a Bible study for later in the week. In no time a friendly voice calls my name, and we can begin.

Steve, wearing a football scarf, sits in an empty football stadiumIdentity details and medical history notes are checked. I fail the first haemoglobin test, but this happens, and a retest is fine.

We talk of football; the lady was also at Edgeley Park on Saturday: wasn’t the atmosphere fantastic? Do you think the Hatters will go up this year?

With everything checked out we move on to the donor chair. I remark that for many years I was involved in the manufacture of blood bags for Baxter Fenwal, and we check the manufacturer of the bag that will take my blood; Macopharma, once rivals but now allies in what we are about to do.

My blood type is A negative, which means I could have been a universal platelet donor, but sadly my veins would not be up to the apheresis process of taking blood out, removing the platelets and putting the rest back in.

My veins are proving a problem again, and for a moment I fear that we will not be able to proceed, but a detailed check shows the site we have used before.

Yes, it does hurt just a bit as the needle goes in, but as you consider what you are about to do, it is surely worth it.

The team are great at talking you though everything as you go and answering any questions you have. My notes show that my blood is cleared for neo natal use. Why? It doesn’t have antibodies that could harm small babies, either due to genetics, or through not having been exposed to certain viruses. It also means my single donation can help 12 babies. This is my fourth so make that 48 babies in total. So far.

The machine pings and we are away. I take my phone from my pocket and look at photos of my two-month-old granddaughter Abi; I have a few hundred. There is one of her in my arms when she was just a few hours old, and I give silent thanks that she is healthy.

After 10 minutes and 31 seconds the donation is complete, and 470ml of my A negative has been taken. The team check that I am OK and having followed the instruction from before that on the day of your donation you should ‘drink like a fish and eat like a pig’ I feel fine, although I do need to go to the gents.

Yes, it does hurt just a bit as the needle goes in, but as you consider what you are about to do, it is surely worth it

I feel well enough to walk straight home but follow the advice to take a moment to sit down and have refreshments. And besides, they have those chocolate Oreos that I like.

Even though the team will be very late home and are taking things down, you do not feel pressured to rush. Coat on, and a quick run round of thank yous: see you next time, it will nearly be summer by then! Will you be at the next Hatters match? Then I button up my northern coat as the night is even colder now.

Down the road and across the park between the lakes, and I find myself beginning to cry. It is a whole mix of emotions. Pride and satisfaction at having done something good, for someone I will never meet; it is an act of love, as I read in an excellent article by Caitlin Moran recently. But then in my mind I see the image of desperate and frightened parents watching as their little one struggles for life, and amid the awfulness and panic one of our wonderful medical people will reach for a container of A negative.

Blood given in love by a stranger, Abi’s granddad, on a cold night in Stockport.


If you have a way with words and want to share your story – be it of your first donation or your five hundredth – then please email it to thedonor@nhsbt.nhs.uk, including your name and contact details.