Henkka’s career as a donor began on the unlucky day
Henkka’s, 32, story reminds us that a blood donor can, at any time, become a patient in need of blood products. As a result of knee surgery, Henkka’s haemoglobin dropped in an instant by 100 points, and his condition would not have improved without the help of fellow donors.
“I donated blood for the first time on Friday, 13 February 2004. I had been planning to donate blood since the previous autumn, when I turned 18. I did not have prior experiences of donating blood, and none of my family members had ever donated blood. The mother of my then-girlfriend was my donor role model, as she was already a seasoned donor at the time. Once I began thinking about donating, the thought lingered: ‘why wouldn’t I?’ Especially, since my haemoglobin has been good ever since childhood.
The first time I went, I asked (or begged) my mother to join me. So there we were, two first-timers at the Oulu Blood Service Centre at Isokatu. My mother was a bit more nervous than I was. I remember the date on the calendar on the reception desk and how I encouraged my mother from my own donation bed. I wonder if I even ate the sweet bun served after donation, as I have no recollection of it. I was scared of needles as a child, when I had to have blood tests taken on several occasions for all kinds of reasons. My mother and I used to count the number of vials, and I remember that one time I had six vials of blood taken, which was a record at the time. Maybe I got used to the needles and counting the vials; this could explain why I now donate blood regularly. Who knows?
I continued to donate regularly even after I moved down south, though I had to leave my regular donating buddy behind. Occasionally, I’ve been accompanied by friends, some of them first-timers. Cheers to all of them; I always enjoy the company! Mostly, however, donating blood has been a personal, dear hobby of mine. Some people mark the next marathon or trip abroad in their calendars, I mark my next blood donation day. I tend to donate from my left arm, which has good veins; so far, I’ve counted 44 donations. A few times, I’ve had to donate from my right arm. The longest breaks between donations have been forced, for example, after my knee surgery.
A patient whiter than a sheet
It was my third and most recent knee surgery in 2009 that turned me from a donor to a blood receiver. Due to complications from the surgery, I had to return to the hospital in the middle of the night shortly after having been released home, and, for some time, a new surgery was considered. The most important factor affecting my condition, apart from pain, was my haemoglobin, which had plummeted. Before, my Hb had been between 170 and 190, but now, due to a haemorrhage in my knee, it had dropped to 77, by some hundred points. There are pictures taken of me in the hospital, in which, as people like to tease me, I look whiter than the hospital sheet.
This true story has a happy ending however: my knee did not need a new surgery, it recovered and is now better than it ever was before that autumn. To elevate my blood counts, I was put on a drip and given two bags of red cells in addition to intravenous antibiotics. After the red cells entered my circulation, my condition improved considerably and I no longer almost fainted as I sat up on my bed. This gave me an insight to the wonders of blood and blood donation. And how, through a mundane occurrence, I could end up waiting for blood, sent to the ward via pneumatic mail, to warm up to the transfusion temperature.
I plan on continuing to donate blood, unless something unforeseen prevents its. At this rate, I will be donating for the fiftieth time in the autumn – fifteen years after turning eighteen. With good luck, I will have donated a hundred times before I turn fifty. I have also joined the Stem Cell Registry, and if one day I will be invited to donate stem cells, I’m prepared to do it. As far as I know, these are the only ways in which I can help my fellow humans by lying down and eating sweet buns. In the summer, we get ice cream, too. As easy as anything.”
Henkka, blood donor
Text and photos: Henri Lehtonen / personal photo album