Derry family's call for donors as platelet levels down 15% compared to before pandemic

UTV can reveal that platelet donations in Northern Ireland have not yet recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, with levels 15% lower compared to before the coronavirus outbreak.

Platelets are critical in the care of organ recipients, those involved in serious accidents and more commonly, cancer patients.

The family of a two-year-old girl who's battling leukaemia are encouraging the public to donate.

Aria Stevenson from Londonderry was diagnosed just weeks after her second birthday.

Her mum and dad, Gillian and Gavin, told UTV about just how life-saving platelet donations have been in her cancer journey.

"One of the first things that actually happened in Altnagelvin Hospital was that they gave her a blood transfusion because her haemoglobin was so low," said Gillian.

"We noticed instantly once she had her blood transfusion, a change in her energy and how she was and we realised this was going to be part of our journey and that there was going to be numerous transfusions of blood and platelets."

Gavin told UTV: "Her platelets had dipped a lot, particularly over Christmas there, they went down to three. At the minute, they're actually at the 300 mark which is fantastic and that's all thanks to staff monitoring her and keeping an eye on her bloods.

"If they find out that her platelets are low or haemoglobin is low, they do a transfusion there and then."

While platelet levels have stayed low, whole blood donations have recovered.

Figures obtained from the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service show that while whole blood donations dropped by 8% in 2022-23 compared to pre-pandemic levels, in the last 12 months there has been a 4% rise compared to 2019-2020.

Matt Gillespie from the NIBTS told UTV: "During the pandemic we seen a dip, there was less donors coming out but we were also needing less blood and it's just took a while to come back to normal levels of donation.

"Probably the biggest change we've introduced is an online booking system, they don't have to wait on the phone to get an appointment, they can just book online twenty-four seven."

The Transfusion Service needs 1200 donors every week; anything less would impact supplies, anything more would go to waste.

While giving blood takes around 15 minutes, giving platelets is a longer procedure.

Donating platelets can take at least one hour and you also need to weigh at least 70kg to qualify.

Aria's family are also fundraising for three separate charities which have helped them since her diagnosis in September; Angel Wishes, Young Lives vs Cancer and the Royal Hospital's Cancer Unit.

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