Yesterday I took a trip into Central London to volunteer as a donor. It made me think about all the ways we can donate, and this post is the result. It’s a bit preachy because I feel quite strongly about it, so apologies in advance if you are offended by my opinions.
I came up with seven ways to donate. Can you add any more?
This is the obvious one, and something most people can afford to do, even if it’s just a pound a month. If you’ve ever watched TV, received post, had an email account or walked down a city centre street then someone has probably already asked you to donate money to charity – so I won’t say more about this.
This is a bit like money, in that you probably swap money for food then give the food away. But I was shocked to hear that people are starving here in the UK – sometimes because of delays in benefits payments which leaves families without any money for basic necessities. Well, all over the UK there are things called Foodbanks which give out food parcels and basics like nappies to people in desperate need – who are referred via GPs and other community based groups. So if you have a few cans of food that have been living at the back of your cupboard that have become less like your future lunch and more like permanent lodgers, perhaps you could drop them over to your local foodbank?
Like money, most people have some time they could spare to help others. Be honest – how many hours do you spend in front of the TV each week? Could you spare the occasional hour and donate it?
Everyone has different skills, and some people have very valuable skills from their professional lives which can be useful to charities. But even if you are not a trained barrister or high-flying corporate leader, you could probably spend a couple of hours listening to a child read, or befriending a local mum, or offering moral support by replying to a post on an internet forum. Not only will you feel good but volunteering your time can look great on your CV too.
Aah, onto the more interesting ones… bodily fluids. Unlike sweat and tears, your blood is something other people might want. And not just the vampires.
This is something I feel strongly about, partly because Nathan received many blood transfusions during his time in hospital, but also because of the expectation most people have. Think about it – if you had an accident or you fell ill and you needed a blood transfusion would you accept it? Very few people would say no. But where do you think this blood comes from? And do you donate? Very few people, as a proportion of those who could, say yes.
Not everyone can donate blood – if you’ve recently had a tattoo, or you are on medication, are pregnant or have recently given birth, or if you’re a man who has had sex with another man then the blood service may not let you donate – the safety of the recipient is their primary concern. But most healthy adults are eligible. So if you expect the NHS to patch you up when you’re sick then I think you should expect to “pay in” a few pints in advance. Afterwards is too late – as a recipient of blood products you would not be allowed to donate.
If you want to find out where your local donor session is, or find out if you’re able to donate, go to http://www.blood.co.uk/ You even get a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards. And if you’re lucky you could get a sticker that says “I gave blood for a custard cream”.
Getting more serious here… but on the positive side you won’t feel a thing – because you’ll be dead! It’s the same argument as for blood – most people would readily accept an organ transplant if they needed one. So why don’t most people sign the organ donor register? It’s not like you even need to inconvenience yourself with a 2 hour trip to the blood donor session, or worry about being sore from someone sticking a needle into your arm. You’ll be too dead to worry about all that. But instead hundreds of people die needlessly each year just waiting for an organ whilst thousands upon thousands of good body parts are cremated or buried. So go here: http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/ukt/default.asp and sign up.
If you do sign the register please let your nearest and dearest know, as the reality is they will be the ones saying yes or no to the doctors should you suffer an untimely demise. For the record, when I’m done with this body I’m happy for them to chop it up and hand it out – I’m getting a new body in the next life so I won’t be needing this one any more.
6. Bone marrow
Now, this one I can understand. Donating bone marrow is a little more invasive than blood – bigger needles, time in hospital. So fewer people are willing to sign up. And its fine to refuse to save the life of a gravely sick child because it might sting a little, right?
When I was in school one of my group of friends was diagnosed with leukaemia. She had it 3 times during her childhood. Twice, she had her own immune system destroyed with chemo and radiotherapy, and twice received a successful bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately the third time she was not so lucky, and she died aged 16. In her memory I signed up to the donor register as soon as I was old enough. Signing up is noy hard – it involves giving a couple of tubes of blood for testing. They use this to do a preliminary tissue type test, and you go on the register until someone of the same type needs a transplant. You get lots of information about the bone marrow donation process, and you can decide whether its something that you’d be willing to do or not. To find out more go here: http://www.anthonynolan.org/
Yes, milk. And I don’t mean 2 pints of semi skimmed. I mean human breast milk. Did you know it can be donated? And that is what I signed up to do yesterday.
“Bleurgh” you might be thinking. “Why on earth would you want to do that? Isn’t it a bit creepy?” Well, no, not really. And you might want to do it for exactly the same reasons you might donate any of the other things on this list. Because someone else needs it more than you do, and because a minor inconvenience to you might save someone else’s life. Because premature babies are very delicate, and their immature guts are prone to a disease called NEC (necrotising enterocolitis) which can kill them. Sometimes their own mums might not be able to produce enough milk for them, perhaps because they are critically ill themselves, or because their early labour and huge levels of stress didn’t leave them with enough hormones to bring in a good milk supply. Sadly, sick babies who are formula fed have much higher rates of NEC – basically it is a medical risk. Some neonatal units run a milk bank where mothers of healthy babies can donate milk to help sick babies. Sometimes a mum of a sick baby might have excess frozen milk when her own baby is discharged, and this can sometimes be donated too. The one that makes me well up is that some incredibly brave mothers whose babies don’t survive choose to continue expressing milk to help other sick babies in memory of their own.
The donor mothers are screened for diseases in much the same way as blood donors. The milk is pasteurized and tested. Donor mothers must have a baby under 6 months old, as the body is very clever and changes the milk as the baby grows, so milk produced to feed a 12 month old baby contains different amounts of fat, protein, trace elements etc than milk produced to feed a 2 month old baby. Premature babies need milk designed for young babies, milk that supports rapid growth and developing brains.
“But isn’t giving another woman’s milk to your baby – you know – a bit weird? Icky?” Well, yes and no. I agree it does seem that way at first. But is it any more weird than taking blood out of one person and putting it into another? Or a heart? And, if you actually think it through why is it weird for one woman to give breast milk to another human child, but not weird that we all drink breast milk from cows?
“But won’t your own baby go hungry?” Nope. Well, not unless you’re literally starving. And certainly not if you understand a little bit about how breasts make milk. They never “run out”, because they make milk all the time. Even as you are feeding or expressing your breasts are starting to make more milk, and if your baby keeps sucking the milk will keep coming and keep coming – albeit at a slower flow once the “store” is used up. And the rate that you make milk works on a supply and demand basis. The higher the demand the higher the supply. The key is to keep the demand steady, not to let it be massive one day and tiny the next – that is what leads to problems like mastitis or insufficient supply. And of course its silly to wait until your baby is hungry, then empty your boobs into the collection bottle, because your baby will spend the next 3 hours attached to your nipple taking the milk as your body makes it and sending a signal to your body to “make more, make more” by chomping on you as much as possible. Instead, you should express at the same time every day, perhaps just after your baby has fed and is likely to be asleep for an hour or two, so your milk will be tanking up the “store” after you’ve expressed and before your baby wants more. Within a couple of days of your new routine your body gets the idea that you need to make more milk, and your supply will just adjust. Neat, huh? And the great thing is that tiny babies need tiny amounts of milk – Nathan started off on 1ml of milk per hour – not even 5 teaspoonfuls a day. So one session of expressed milk could feed a premature baby for the best part of a week. A little inconvenience can do a lot of good.
If you’re interested in finding out more, have a look at the UK Association of Milk Banks, which can tell you about the process and where your nearest milk bank is: http://www.ukamb.org/
There are some things you won’t find on the website though. Reasons to consider being a milk donor that are not commonly known….
– breasts full of milk are big. Want a breast enlargement without the hefty price tag? Well feed your baby and express milk too, and at least you’ll have fantastic boobs just before feeding time. Pamela Anderson step aside, here come the milk bank mummies.
– making milk is very calorie intensive. So if you donate milk as well as feeding your own baby you will lose your baby weight faster. Or (my personal preference) you can eat more and not get fat. Feeding a baby exclusively on breast milk takes bout 3 bars of chocolate each day (aka 500 calories). Not that I’ve looked it up or anything. So expressing more milk burns up more calories. Which means more chocolate.
– empathy for dumb animals. As a vegetarian of some 20 years I am concerned for the welfare of farmed animals. Sure, I have removed my economic pressure from those animals raised for slaughter. But I always had a little bit of guilt about the animal products I do still consume – milk and eggs. Well, now I have a whole new understanding of what its like to be a dairy cow. Moooooo.
So that is my summary of ways to donate. I’m sure there are more – can you think of any? Have you tried them and would you recommend them? Or do you disagree with donating blood / organs / milk? Why?
In the mean time, happy donating, and happy receiving. As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 “each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”