The gift of life - a thank you letter
When he was suddenly diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2021, my late 74-year-old father, Sam Thomas received countless transfusions of red blood cells and platelets. He referred to them every time as “the gift of life" and he wrote the piece below about how grateful he was to the anonymous donors who extended his life and allowed him to keep writing, podcasting and enjoying his life for as long as he could. Before he died in September 2021, he asked me, his daughter, to share his writing — and his deep gratitude — with the hope that it might inspire others.
“Today I received my fourth gift of red blood cells. I’ve also had transfusions of platelets, three of those, so that’s seven transfusions of blood products so far: the magic liquid which keeps us alive. I have acute myeloid leukaemia, with cancer crowding out my good blood cells in my bone marrow, and I need regular transfusions of red blood cells and platelets to stay alive. Those who donate it are giving me, and many others, the gift of life.
In my younger days, I was that anonymous giver myself. It was a bit scary the first time, but because colleagues came with me to the blood donation centre, I felt that I was in good company. Back then, we knew that our blood donations were gifts which were sorely needed by others less fortunate than ourselves. We all need blood, and it can be transferred from one person to another. This is amazing when you think about it.
(Picture: Sam Thomas received platelets and red cells during his cancer treatment)
I was told I have blood type A Rhesus Negative, and I got a letter from the NHS blood agency that this constituted only 10% of blood types. I was told that my donation was therefore particularly important as it was relatively rare among the population.
Giving was relatively easy. Lie on a bed, nurse finds your vein, tiny prick of hollow needle allows blood to flow from vein to tube connected to needle. Really simple and quite painless in my case. Then lie there and let your blood flow into your personal collecting bag. It’s only a small portion of your blood you are giving and you can easily do without it while your bone marrow makes up the difference.
In exchange for this gift, we got a cup of tea afterwards along with some cookies. My French wife Michèle tells me that when she gave in France in her youth, the givers got a glass of wine or beer and sandwiches, and even cigarettes (which would be anathema today)!
So, go forward 45 years since I was giving blood, and I am now the recipient of blood products from those who, like me back then, have given me some of their magic fluid in the form of red blood cells and platelets. If you have ever had a low haemoglobin count, you will know without any shadow of a doubt, how important this is to maintaining your life. Haemoglobin carries oxygen to your organs. When you have a low count, you can become quite breathless, and this is really scary. The panic can be very debilitating, as well of course as the physical gasping for breath for even the smallest movements of your body. You wouldn’t believe how much oxygen your organs need for the basic movements of life. When you have a low haemoglobin count, just getting dressed can make you breathless.
I’m able to breathe easily again, thanks to an anonymous giver, which has made all the difference to extending my life. My thanks to that anonymous donor is beyond words.
Thanks to NHS blood donation services, I have had the most wonderful experiences of going from being breathless to being able to climb a small hill, all in the space of a couple of hours. That’s what happened to me today. I had been able to take only a few short steps from car to a bench halfway to the entrance of the outpatient hospital unit today. After only one unit of red blood cells and one of platelets, I could walk briskly up a short incline of about 75 metres and not be breathless. How incredible that some anonymous giver enabled me to do that! I am forever grateful to that wonderful person.
I was ushered to a chair, and the nurse used the heater to warm my right arm. She quickly found a vein, and I felt a very slight prick of the hollow needle, just exactly like the feeling I had when I gave blood all those years ago. Only this time, the fluid would be pumped in. There is no pain whatsoever, and I spent most of the time reading my book and responding to the best wishes of family and friends via my phone.
(Picture: "The nurse carries the blood products to you in a red insulated box")
The nurse carries the blood products to you in a red insulated box, and this really signifies what a special gift this is. The bag inside the box gets hooked up on the pump, and then the blood cells start going in, again totally painlessly. When the bag empties, the pump beeps, the bag is disconnected and the needle removed from my arm.
And I am free to walk away, climb the little incline outside the building and off I go home with my wife. I’m able to breathe easily again, thanks to an anonymous giver, which has made all the difference to extending my life. My thanks to that anonymous donor is beyond words.”
Could you donate platelets?
Right now, we need people with A negative, AB negative and A positive blood types to step forward and donate platelets to help people with cancer.
Remarkable stories from the world of giving blood – be they from the research lab, the hospital bed, or the donor chair