Patient Story

Haifa Ungapen

I was diagnosed with Thalassaemia at 10 months old in Lebanon, 5 years into a civil war that was to last until 1990. Finding the monthly blood units I needed in those circumstances was very difficult. In Lebanon, where there is no national blood bank, this is still difficult up to now! I vividly remember my mum’s long list of donors, sourced through endless requests to people we knew, about whether they had my blood type and would donate, and/or whether they could think of someone else who fit these criteria. The school notebook the list was in got worn out over the years. So did the list. People in it developed various kinds of conditions or contracted infections, meaning they could not donate anymore.

My parents would then go on to new quests to find alternative donors. I took over that mantle when I was a 16 year old teenager and throughout my university years and my professional life. Asking my boyfriends what their blood type was and would they donate! Calling a friend of a friend of a student at the university I went to, who happened to see my poster about needing blood and called my number. Asking colleagues whether they knew of someone who could donate. It was oft times humiliating and always, always, a drain on my time and energy.

Landing in the UK in 2005 with a scholarship to complete my Masters was certainly an eye-opening experience, in terms of blood security. Coming back to the UK in 2009 and living here ever since, I continue to witness the miracles that blood donors and our NHS blood system are. I need 2 to 3 units every 3 weeks to survive, sure, but also thrive. For someone who had been predicted 8 years of life, 39 years’ worth of life have been a blessing, made possible only because of generous blood donors. I’ve been able to finish school, go to university, find a job, complete 2 Master degrees, and hold interesting jobs in International Development.

While not an achievement, meeting Vimalen – my husband – in London, was certainly a highlight. We met while volunteering at a bone marrow registry drive which slogan was “Find your match”. As it turned out, Vimalen regularly donates blood with the NHS and is “B+”… My blood type!

I’d like to thank each and every donor who has ever given blood. Every unit is special. Every unit is life to people like me. I especially want to thank all of you out there who are continuing to donate, despite these difficult times we are going through. Your donation is a lifeline to us, our loved ones and our families. A ray of hope that makes me continue believing in humanity and what’s good in it. Helping each other will help us get through this and beyond, so please – if you haven’t already – register, give blood, give life.