Your LIFE: PLEASE GIVE Generously; THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE DYING TOO SOON BECAUSE THERE'S A SHORTAGE OF TISSUE AND ORGAN DONATIONS. IT'S SURPRISINGLY EASY TO BE A LIFE SAVER

The Mirror (London, England), February 13, 2007 | Go to article overview

Your LIFE: PLEASE GIVE Generously; THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE DYING TOO SOON BECAUSE THERE'S A SHORTAGE OF TISSUE AND ORGAN DONATIONS. IT'S SURPRISINGLY EASY TO BE A LIFE SAVER


Byline: BY MADELEINE BAILEY

PROGRESS in medicine has radically boosted our life expectancy but, at times, science is useless without our help.

Each year lives are lost as patients wait in vain for suitable bone marrow, kidneys and other vital organs.

And couples' dreams of becoming parents are frustrated by a lack of sperm and egg donation.

Recently the law has changed allowing a living person to donate a kidney to a stranger but there are many less drastic ways to save or even create a life. Here's how to make a difference...

BLOOD

The National Blood Service (NBS) needs over two million donations a year for Britain's hospitals. While that need is met in total, stocks run low over holiday periods such as August and Christmas.

"As blood only has a shelf life of 35 days, it's vital to keep a constant supply," says Penny Richardson, regional communications manager for the NBS.

There's also a shortage of blood for ethnic minorities. "The blood that someone is given needs to be compatible with their own blood type. Ethnic background affects blood type," says Richardson.

If you're healthy, aged between 17 and 60 and weigh more than 7st 12lb, you'll probably be able to give blood. Restrictions include pregnancy and infections or illnesses like HIV or hepatitis.

"It takes around an hour and involves answering questions about your health. A needle is then inserted into your arm and a pint of blood is extracted into a bag," says Penny Richardson.

DOES IT HURT? There's just a prick when the needle goes in.

HOW MANY COULD YOU HELP? You should donate up to three times a year.

HOW TO DO IT: Contact NBS: www.blood.co.uk 0845 771 1711.

BONE MARROW

Bone marrow - soft, jellylike tissue in the hollow centre of large bones - contains stem cells essential for blood production. Certain diseases, including leukaemia, damage bone marrow and a transplant is the only hope for some patients.

"There's only a 30 per cent chance that a patient's relatives can provide a match, so 70 per cent are hoping for the generosity of strangers," says Alex Frazier, of the Anthony Nolan Trust.

Seven thousand people worldwide are currently waiting for a transplant. To register as a donor, you need to be healthy and aged between 18 and 40. There's a higher success rate with young donors. If you're matched to a patient, you can choose from two methods. One involves a two-day stay in hospital where the bone marrow is removed from the pelvic bones by a needle under general anaesthetic.

The other involves injecting growth hormone to encourage stem cells from the bone marrow to enter the bloodstream. Then you're hooked up to a machine for several hours while needles in each arm extract stem cells from the blood.

DOES IT HURT? You may get soreness and bruising of your lower back and feel tired for a few days.

HOW MANY COULD YOU HELP? One.

HOW TO DO IT: Contact: www.anthonynolan.org.uk 020 7284 1234. The trust particularly needs male and ethnic minority donors. Lost earnings are refunded.

BONE

If you have hip-replacement surgery, you may be asked if you want to donate the bone that will be removed as part of the operation. It's needed for patients who've lost bone due to disease or previous surgery.

DOES IT HURT? No.

HOW MANY COULD YOU HELP? One.

HOW TO DO IT: Just say yes.

EYE GRAFTS

If you're healthy, pregnant and planning a caesarean, you'll be given the chance to donate amniotic membrane (tissue surrounding the baby in the womb) for use in sight-saving operations.

After you've given birth, the membrane is taken from the placenta and frozen. It's used to cover eyes and encourage healing following burns or reconstructive eye surgery.

DOES IT HURT? No.

HOW MANY COULD YOU HELP?

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