Meet the Donor - Sasha Cooke

Sasha Cooke works as Donor Carer Supervisor at our mobile City Team in London. She shares her story of altruistic kidney donation.

Sasha CookeI learnt about NHS Blood and Transplant at the start of the pandemic, March 2020. I was aware of a donor centre close to me when I was living in Tooting but hadn't thought much of it until our lives changed as a result of lockdown.

(Picture: Sasha was inspired by the generosity of donors to donate her kidney)

I had a very interesting journey, resulting in my work in donor care. I had put myself forward to work at one of the Nightingale Hospitals at the start of the pandemic - both of my jobs had come to a standstill.

I was working as a manager for a barbershop and hair salon in Tooting, which closed temporarily as a result of lockdown. I was also, wherever possible, working as an actor. I was approached by NHS Blood and Transplant to work as an 'Antibody Angel' when convalescent plasma collection was taking place. Then I moved to whole blood collection with the City Team!

The most surprising thing about the job for me is the stories that I hear from donors. I hadn't anticipated the huge variety of people's reasons for donating. For some donors it's a way to overcome a phobia of needles and for others it's taking the place of their parent, friend or colleague who is no longer able to donate. It's incredibly moving hearing from donors about what compelled them to book an appointment.

I learnt about organ donation after doing more research when the law around organ donation changed in May 2020. I had also learnt about living organ donation from a few donors I'd met who had donated kidneys in the past.

A friend of mine, Annie, has been a blood donor since university and had recommended I listen to a podcast about happiness (in which) they discussed donors and what it is that makes people commit selfless acts. The podcast went into great depth about living kidney donors and it's safe to say I was intrigued.

Working with blood donors every day has had an incredible impact on me: their generosity inspired me to go ahead with an altruistic donation.

I have never met anyone in need of a kidney transplant but the pandemic had really shifted my focus and made me strive towards more selfless acts. Working with blood donors every day has had an incredible impact on me: their generosity inspired me to go ahead with an altruistic donation.

My family were initially very hesitant, as you can imagine. The immediate instinct for my brother, for example, was, well, what if I need a kidney?

(Picture: Sasha works as Donor Carer Supervisor in London)

My mum was also worried about how it might impact me in my day to day life, and as I don't know the recipient she couldn't fully understand why I would put myself at risk like that, undergoing an operation that I don't need.

However, when I gave my family the call after the operation they were so proud. My friends were incredibly supportive and with me every step of the way. My colleagues were also absolutely wonderful, they gave me the best send off at work and also sent me away with boxes and boxes of activities and reading materials for isolation beforehand and recovery afterwards.

In total the eligibility tests and lead-up took almost a year, due to a few delays in appointments because of COVID-19. I was also in isolation for two weeks prior to the operation. I was admitted to the hospital on the Tuesday, had the operation on Wednesday and I was home by Friday!

I feel great now. I am back to my usual self and I've resumed my life (as it was) before the operation. I initially trained as an actor, so still love going to the theatre. I also have a passion for food: cooking for friends and family is my favourite way to unwind. I also love art and anything crafty; when I'm not at work I'm often meandering around the galleries in London.

Behind the scenes

Sasha recently starred in BBC documentary:

We Are England, The Night Shift: Life Blood

BBC went behind the scenes of blood and organ donation in England, documenting the personal motivations and the science allowing donors to give the gift of life to complete strangers. 

I am so proud of myself, I feel as though the kidney donation was a team effort and was all thanks to the support of the renal team at St George's, my wonderful friends, family and colleagues. The kidney is all of ours!

I had heard after the operation that it had been successful and that the recipient wanted to pass their thanks - that was a very emotional moment for me.

I also believe there is a letter on the way from my recipient, which is such an exciting prospect. I hadn't anticipated hearing from them, but I'm so pleased they want to get in touch.

All communication remains anonymous between us, and I'm absolutely fine with that. I want them to get on with their life and I'm chuffed to have hopefully given them a chance to have a bit more autonomy and freedom.

To those who are hesitating about blood donation, I would say, go on, look up all the answers to any questions you might have and book an appointment. Maybe book an appointment with a friend, colleague or relative who is also interested in giving blood; some first-time donors find that helpful. Also, bring something to keep you busy whilst donating, a favourite podcast or music to listen to.

Organ donation is a very big decision to make, but it's the best thing I've ever done.

I would encourage others to research it, check their eligibility and sign up if they're sure. But if not, I recommend that people have those important conversations with relatives about what they'd like to do with their organs after they pass away. Although the law has changed, families must also okay the donor's decision.

Sasha Cooke
Sasha has now fully recovered after her surgery
Sasha at donation session
Sasha is now back at work with London City Team