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'Golden blood' donations: 'When they told me it helps people with cancer, I was sold'

Lindsay Johns, from South London, has been a dedicated donor for most of his adult life - Paul Grover for The Telegraph
Lindsay Johns, from South London, has been a dedicated donor for most of his adult life - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Britain’s most prolific blood donor donated 25 times in 2022 and has been giving platelets every two weeks for more than 15 years.

Lindsay Johns, 46, from South London, has been a dedicated donor for most of his adult life after first giving whole blood in the mid-90s while a Modern Languages student at Oxford.

Speaking to The Telegraph while giving his 254th platelet donation since he switched from whole blood in 2007, the writer and broadcaster says he feels he has a “civic duty” to donate as much as possible.

Platelets, one of four components in blood along with red blood cells, white blood cells and plasma, are small cells with a golden hue that help the blood to clot. They can only be stored for seven days. The majority of platelet donations are given to chemotherapy patients to help them through their recovery.

During a platelet donation, blood is extracted from the arm and passed to a machine which filters it to extract the clotting cells before pumping the rest back into the patient. Unlike whole blood, platelets can be donated every two weeks, using a slightly thicker needle for more than an hour.

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“Giving platelets is not exactly rocket science; I’m not splitting the atom here," Mr Johns said at London Tooting Blood Donor Centre in the grounds of St George's hospital.

"I simply come and sit for a little over an hour with a needle in my arm every two weeks and have a coffee and a nice chat with the carers or read a good book. What’s not to like?

“It’s no chore coming here for me, it’s not exactly arduous. The opposite actually, I really enjoy it."

There are not enough platelet donors, the NHS Blood and Transplant register says, with type A blood in particularly high demand.

It comes after a blood shortage last year forced the NHS to issue an amber alert and cancel some operations.

A rush of donations stabilised stocks, but in January the NHS again said it had low levels of some platelets and blood types, issuing a “pre-amber alert” which remains in place owing “to the on-going challenges of industrial action”.

There are 13,439 platelet donors on the NHS Blood and Transplant register and more are needed.

Last year 28 people donated platelets more than 20 times and almost 1,400 donated more than ten times. The average number of donations was five.

Only Mr Johns reached 25 donations. Not only that, but his high platelet count means he can give three times a standard amount.

A single platelet donation can be given to up to three patients, meaning one donation from Mr Johns can treat up to nine patients.

NHSBT records show Mr Johns has given 636 units over his donation career, helping treat 687 adults, or 2,595 children.

One unit is about 470ml, meaning Mr Johns has in his life given away around 300 litres, enough to fill the fuel tank of eight Ford Kas.

Three months after he first gave platelets in 2007, he learnt that the mother of a close university friend was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

She died six weeks later. With 70 per cent of platelet donations going to cancer patients, he called it a “no brainer”.

In 2021, his own mother was also diagnosed with cancer and had six months of chemotherapy before her death, reinforcing his desire to help those most in need.

“Life is the greatest and most remarkable gift - and it’s profoundly humbling that I have a surplus of something in my veins that can potentially help others live,” he told The Telegraph as he sipped a black coffee whilst his machine whirred in the background, sucking, filtering and pumping his blood back into his arm.

“The staff here are brilliant, I really can’t say that enough. They’re the real heroes.

“I don’t really know how it works, but when they told me it helps people with cancer, I was sold. Sign me up.”

Daniel Clarke, head of component integration at NHSBT, told The Telegraph: “Platelets save lives, and these donors are often the unheard heroes of the donation community.

“A negative, A positive and AB negative are the blood types that are most needed because they suit most people who need a platelet transfusion.

“If you’re already a blood donor it’s easy to find out if you are suitable for platelet donation, visit our website or speak to one of the team at your next donation.”