Haemochromatosis patients get chance to donate blood

Ray Crowley is used to nurses sticking needles in him and endures what is medically known as a phlebotomy.

Haemochromatosis patients  get chance to donate blood

He attends the blood donor clinic at St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork every three months but yesterday was the first time that he actually donated.

“Up to now they used to take my blood and throw it away,” said Ray, a father of two from Fermoy with haemochromatosis, a potentially deadly genetic disorder where an excessive amount of iron is absorbed from the diet.

“I am the first person in Cork with the condition to be allowed donate and that is great,” said Ray, who was diagnosed with the condition 12 years ago.

“There is really nothing wrong with my blood but up to now it used to be dumped instead of used for others. That has changed now and people with my condition can safely donate.”

Ray, 47, whose father also had haemochromatosis and whose adult son and daughter, aged 18 and 22 respectively, may also inherit it, is sanguine about the effect it has on his life.

“It’s not very disruptive, really,” he said. “It’s fine once you look after it.

“I come to the clinic every three months or so and they take blood to reduce the build-up of iron to safe levels. Otherwise, it can affect the liver and other organs and can be fatal.”

Watching him donate was Kathleen Lynch, minister of state at the Department of Health, who was at the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) clinic at St Finbarr’s to launch a new service for haemochromatosis patients in Munster.

“I’m a former donor myself,” said Ms Lynch. “I am known as a ‘universal donor’. I have O Rh D negative blood which can be given to anyone.”

The IBTS has been providing a service for haemochromatosis patients since 2007 when a service was opened at the Stillorgan clinic in Dublin. Last year, the service was expanded nationally to include donations by previous ineligible patients like those with haemochromatosis.

“In 2013, IBTS expanded the service to these patients nationally,” explained Andy Kelly, chief executive of the IBTS.

“For the first time we provide a service to patients who are not eligible to be blood donors, as well as for those who could donate. Since opening, 80% of these patients have decided to become donors and are now on the regular donor programme” he said.

“This service is a win-win venture where eligible haemochromatosis patients are provided with a free phlebotomy service and the maintenance of the national blood supply for Irish patients is enhanced by support from these particularly eligible new donors.

“It also enables haemochromatosis patients to make their own contribution and become regular blood donors.”

IBTS medical and scientific director Dr William Murphy added: “We look forward to providing access to this service for people with haemochromatosis throughout Ireland over the coming years.”

* The IBTS needs to collect almost 140,000 donations in 2014. Those wishing to donate can find details of clinics at www.giveblood.ie

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