This is my sister Lorraine’s story, and it is why I am a blood donor:
My name is Lorraine and I live in Tralee, Co. Kerry with my husband Kieran and our sons, Jack who’s 11 and Kyle who’s 8. Kieran and I got married in March, 1998 and were delighted to discover in 1999 that I was pregnant. Our baby was due in March 2000. At first everything went really well with my pregnancy, in fact I felt so good that we went off to Australia and Singapore on holiday when I was 5 months pregnant. At 32 weeks, I had a scan and a blood test. The blood test showed that I was producing antibodies which were killing off my unborn baby’s red blood cells. This was very frightening for us, especially as I had never heard of this happening to anybody else I knew and I couldn’t understand how or why it had happened to me. I was referred to a specialist in the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. He explained to me that I was producing these antibodies because my blood type was negative, while my baby’s was positive. This doesn’t normally cause problems in a first pregnancy, usually if the mother is negative and the baby is positive the mother is given an anti D injection after the birth of her first baby to prevent problems in future pregnancies. However, for some unexplained reason, in my case it occurred in my first pregnancy, and there was nothing that could be done but to monitor the baby. The doctor went on to explain that the antibodies were killing my baby’s red blood cells and were causing him to become anaemiac and he was also very jaundiced. It was decided that I should attend Holles Street for the remainder of my pregnancy. This meant travelling 180 miles from our home in Tralee to the hospital in Dublin 3 times a week for the last three weeks of my pregnancy. It was decided to deliver Jack 5 weeks early as he was so jaundiced at that stage. Jack was small but reasonably healthy when delivered in February 2000. He was kept in hospital in Holles street special care unit under UV lights to treat the jaundice and we were allowed to take him home after 2 weeks. Jack was very slow to take his bottles and after 6 days at home he stopped breathing several times during the night. We took him to hospital where it was discovered that he was suffering from a lung infection and that his blood count was very low. A sample of my blood was sent by taxi to the blood bank in Cork to get blood for a transfusion for jack. He was given a transfusion that night, followed by another one a few days later. Thankfully he soon thrived and we settled into family life. In 2002 I discovered we were having another baby. To be on the safe side I was immediately referred to Holles Street again. I went there once a week for a scan and blood tests. This time there were problems in the pregnancy from the very beginning. 27 weeks into the pregnancy I was told that my unborn baby would need a blood transfusion to keep him alive. He was given a blood transfusion very early one morning and the doctor told me afterwards that he would probably have been stillborn if they had waited until later in the day to give him that transfusion. He needed a further 3 transfusions to keep him alive and they planned to deliver him in Holles Street 5 weeks early. My baby –Kyle- however had other ideas, he caught us all by surprise and decided he wasn’t going to wait, I went into labour 5 days before he was going to be delivered. I went to Kerry General Hospital and was sent by ambulance to the Erinville hospital in Cork as they felt it safer to have me near the blood bank in case he needed a transfusion after his birth. He was born in October 2002 very fit and healthy. However the day after his birth he struggled to breathe and had to be put on a ventilator. After 2 weeks he was sent by ambulance, still in an incubator, to the special care unit in Kerry General Hospital. There he received another blood transfusion before we were eventually allowed to take him home to meet his big brother Jack. After a couple of weeks Kyle was very sleepy all the time, he was also pale and not feeding very well. I took him to my GP who sent him to the Bons Secours hospital in Tralee where it was discovered that his blood count had dropped very low again so he needed a further transfusion. Kyle always picked his moments to need his transfusions!! He needed one on Christmas Eve of that year and another in January the night before we were going to have him christened.
In total he needed four transfusions after his birth. When I took him to the Bons Secours to have his blood count checked, the doctor there told me that everybody in the blood bank in Cork used to always ask her how Kyle was getting on – despite the fact that none of them had ever met him in person – she said they felt like they knew him personally from all the cross matching they did on his blood. Eventually at three months old he was fit and healthy. At that stage my antibodies, which were supposed to protect my newborn baby, had left his body so his blood count returned to normal. I remember reading in the newspaper at one stage that the blood bank was running low on negative blood. I asked the doctor in Holles Street if there was any danger they wouldn’t be able to get hold of blood for the transfusions and he told me that they had a group of donors that they could call on at short notice. Up until my children needed blood transfusions I gave no thought to blood donors, I would have said I’m scared of needles so would never donate blood. Knowing that your unborn baby will die without blood is a big eye opener and really made me appreciate people who do go to the trouble of giving blood. Unfortunately Kieran and I can’t donate blood, Kieran because he lived in the UK in the 1980’s and me because of Kyle’s transfusions. However as a result of what happened to my boys my brother and his wife have now become blood donors. That’s why I’m glad to tell our story – I think people who donate blood should be encouraged and thanked for the brilliant and selfless gift of life that they give.