Why I Became An Organ Donor

Wow. The longest I’ve gone without blogging since I started.

I hate having a break (I had no laptop for over a month), then coming back and not acknowledging it, I like to keep myself accountable and I never come back from a break with a wishy-washy post going on about my fave makeup etc.

Today I’m going to discuss something that I’ve been concerned about for over a year, organ donation. It’s a bit morbid, but I think that needs to be spoken about more in order to encourage people to educate themselves on it and sign up.

In February 2017, I watched Claire Chanelle’s video which discussed her dad’s illness and lung transplant. This video completely changed the way I thought about illness, and how I took my health for granted. I couldn’t stop thinking about that video, and I watched it almost every day for 2 weeks since it was published (and it’s over an hour long). It was one of the most cleverly marketed things I have ever seen, and led the viewer to believe it was about a Chanel bag, but evidently wasn’t.

I won’t spoil the video for anyone who wants to watch it, and I encourage you to do so (and I bet none of you can watch it without crying). It’s called “BURYING A CHANEL BAG I NO LONGER NEED” and she really hit the nail on the head with me. I had previously viewed her as someone materialistic, who had clearly been brought up with money, and I felt awful for assuming such things after watching.

Watch Claire’s video. 

Instantly after watching, I signed up to be an organ donor, and this has been in the back of my mind ever since.

I initially registered for everything except my eyes, which a lot of people do. They’re perhaps the most personal and recognisable thing about a person. They have seen everything that happens to a person in life, have cried with you, been plastered in makeup and false lashes (in my case), and there’s something very sensitive about the thought of giving them up.

On the other hand, I find it a comforting thought to think that if (touch wood), anything awful ever happens to me or any of my family, their eyes can live on and see new things. I think there’s something terribly poignant about that. After thinking about it for a while, I changed my form and added all organs.

Ever since watching Claire’s video, I have been more aware of people around me becoming ill, or having someone close to them be ill. Illnesses nowadays are never far from home.

I have always wondered about stem cell donation, but was absolutely terrified to do it because I was under the impression that it was agonising and traumatic, but not since last weekend when I signed up through Anthony Nolan. After speaking to a lovely palliative nurse, and a bit of research myself, I can now dispel any rumours for you.

You shouldn’t donate your eyes. 

You should. They are no use to you once you are deceased, and they could give someone else a new lease of life, and bring comfort to your family knowing you helped someone else. Also, you would be donating your corneas not your iris, so not the coloured bit that is so noticeably “you”. Almost anyone between the ages of 2 and 75 can donate, regardless of poor sight or illness themselves (except HIV etc).

You can’t opt out. 

You can. If, like me, you don’t want to jump right in at the deep end, you can donate 1 or 2 organs, then once you have come to terms with the matter, and spoken to your family about it, tick more off the list. However, in April 2020, the law is likely to change. This would mean that everyone is automatically opted in, and they have to opt out. In my opinion, this should have always been the case.

Stem Cell donation is agonising. 

In all honesty, I haven’t done it, so I’m not sure. I had visions of a giant needle being stuck through your arm into your bone, and loads of stuff being pumped out. Screaming, being held down, super dramatic. In reality this isn’t the case.

There are 2 types of stem cell donation. Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation is one of these two methods. PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure, which is officially called apheresis, and is an outpatient procedure. For the 5 days leading up to your donation, you have injections of Filgrastim, which increases how many blood stem cells there are in your blood stream, which is performed by a nurse who visits your home or work.

On the day of your stem cell donation, your blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that will collect only the blood-forming cells. The rest of your blood is returned to you through a needle in the other arm. So a needle in both arms, which will be propped up by a pillow.

The down side is that this session may take up to 8 hours, which happens in 90% of cases. If you need to do it in 2 sessions, they will last 4-6 hours each. From this, you can undoubtedly expect really achey arms afterwards, and perhaps feeling a little faint, but if you’re like me and you pretty much grew up with at least one arm in a pot, you’re pretty used to sore bones.

It takes around a week to fully recover, and that’s in the most drastic of cases, so I think most of us could cope with a bit of soreness and fatigue for a week. Most people fully recover after 2 days. 9/10 donors donate this way.

Stem Cell donation is different to Bone Marrow donation. Bone Marrow donation is a surgical procedure that will require an operation, in which 1/10 donors go through.

Doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow (where the body’s blood-forming cells are made) from both sides of the back of your pelvic bone. You will be given a general anaesthetic and feel no pain during the donation. After donation, your liquid marrow is transported to the patient for transplant the same day, or the day after.

Nowadays, we expect too much from modern medicine and the NHS, we really do. In reality, no matter how many followers you have on instagram, or how much money you or your parents make, it doesn’t mean you will receive a transplant if you are in need.

Donation centres are in Sheffield, Manchester, and two in London, and the bone marrow donor charity, Anthony Nolan, pay for travel and accommodation for you and a companion, so you are really looked after and monitored the entire way through.

The NHS and Anthony Nolan Trust are crying out for stem cell donors between the ages of 16 and 30, especially men and those from ethnic minorities. You stay on the register until you are 60 years old.

Can you ever meet your donor/donee? Yes, after 2 years, dependant on the success of the transplant and whether you both want to meet.

In all honesty, it’s probably very unlikely that you will ever get called up, but just being on the registers could make a huge difference to someone’s life. If you are ever contacted, you don’t have to commit to anything as initial contact is not a guarantee that you would actually be a match.

Ultimately, I hate the thought of being a hypocrite. I can’t expect to receive a transplant of any kind, if I am every unfortunate enough to be in that position, if I am not willing to give that chance to another person. Yes, it might be painful, or I might need a day or two off work, a couple of injections and tests, but if that gives another young person, child, adult, anyone, another chance at life, then sign me up. However uncomfortable it is for those of us who are well, those who are ill and in need of a transplant will have been to actual hell and back, so it’s really nothing in comparison.

I am well enough to do all of these things for someone else, should they need them, so why shouldn’t I? I have realised that health really is wealth, and I want to encourage everyone to think about signing up to be an organ/blood/stem cell donor.

Donate blood

Become an organ donor

Sign up to be a stem cell donor

Learn more from Anthony Nolan

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