Support worker, 52, with the ‘rarest blood in Britain’ has saved dozens of lives

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A support worker with a very rare blood type is thought to have saved dozens of lives after becoming Britain’s only donor of her type.

Sue Olds, 52, from Penzance, Cornwall, gives blood every 16 weeks, with 46 samples being taken to date.

Out of the NHS Blood and Transplant’s (NHSBT) 830,860 donors, she is the only one with blood type D. Just 110 people in the world have D blood – 88 live in Japan

Blood type D is a variant of the so-called Rhesus (Rh) blood group system. 

The five main Rh proteins on red blood cells (RBCs) are C, c, D, E and e. Blood type D comes about due to a genetic mutation that eliminates C, c, E and e on a person’s RBCs.  

Ms Olds’ blood can be given to anyone with Rh C, c, E or e blood. 

The NHSBT claims Ms Olds’ donations have ‘saved or improved’ the lives of dozens of people, including cancer patients, trauma victims and premature babies.

And if she continues donating for the rest of her life, as she plans to, she could save up to 100 people, the body says. 

Sue Olds is the only donor on the NHS Blood and Transplant register with blood type D. This comes about due to a genetic mutation that eliminates four proteins on a person's red blood cells. However, people who have these proteins can still receive type D blood

Sue Olds is the only donor on the NHS Blood and Transplant register with blood type D. This comes about due to a genetic mutation that eliminates four proteins on a person’s red blood cells. However, people who have these proteins can still receive type D blood

Ms Olds first gave blood in 1994, but did not discover how rare her donations are until a decade later.  

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‘I had a phone call back in 2004 to say I had a rare type of blood but other than that not a lot of information came forward,’ she said.

‘Then earlier this year the NHS called me and told me the facts and figures, it’s a bit overwhelming.’ 

In 2017, two units of Ms Olds’ blood were given to a baby over two consecutive days. Medics believe the infant may not have survived without her donations.  

‘Some of my blood has gone on to save a baby’s life,’ she said. ‘It’s overwhelming, it’s very emotional,’ she said. 

‘Life is very precious, I think whether it’s saving a baby’s life of a pensioner’s, it makes no difference.’

An NHST spokesperson added: ‘What’s crucial is for some of those patients, Sue will have been the only donor who could help them. 

‘No-one else’s blood could be given to some recipients without the risk of a potentially fatal transfusion reaction.’ 

Ms Olds donates blood every 16 weeks. Having donated 46 times to date, she vows to continue for the rest of her life, which could 'save or improve around 100 lives'. She is pictured undergoing the 'virtually painless' procedure at the Penzance Leisure Centre in Cornwall

Ms Olds donates blood every 16 weeks. Having donated 46 times to date, she vows to continue for the rest of her life, which could ‘save or improve around 100 lives’. She is pictured undergoing the ‘virtually painless’ procedure at the Penzance Leisure Centre in Cornwall

Samples of Ms Olds’ blood are even stored at the National Frozen Blood Bank in Liverpool for future use, according to the NHSBT website.

The spokesperson claims her blood has ‘saved or improved’ the lives of dozens of people.

And if she ‘keeps donating three times a year for life, that’s around 100 lives saved or improved’.

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WHO CAN GIVE BLOOD IN THE UK?

Most people can give blood.

Donors have to be:

  • Fit and healthy
  • Weigh between 50kg (7st 12lbs) and 160kg (25st)
  • Aged 17-to-66 

Donors can be 70 if they have given blood before, or older if they have donated in the past two years. 

Men can donate every 12 weeks and women every 16 weeks.

Males can give more frequently due to them generally weighing more, which correlates to them having more iron. 

Giving blood removes iron from the body. 

This is an essential mineral that helps to give a person strength and energy.

A person may be unable to give blood if they:

  • Are undergoing medical or hospital treatment
  • Take certain medication
  • Have traveled to ‘restricted areas’ recently
  • Have a tattoo or piercing
  • Are pregnant or recently gave birth
  • Feel ill
  • Have cancer
  • Are receiving blood or an organ transplant

Source: NHS Blood and Transplant 

Since discovering how valuable her blood is, Ms Olds has vowed to donate for as long as she can.  

‘Ladies can donate every 16 weeks,’ she said.

‘I’ve traveled a bit and you can’t donate after visiting certain countries, but now I’m back in Cornwall and back on track. 

‘As soon as I’ve finished I’ll be on the telephone booking my next appointment. It’s just one hour of your day every four months, it’s nothing.’

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Due to blood type D’s rarity, it is difficult to estimate how many other Britons have it.   

‘Given only 110 known donors in the world have it, and only 30 people outside of Japan, you’d probably be talking a handful, but we don’t know,’ the NHSBT spokesperson said.

Miss Olds is speaking out to encourage others to give blood.   

‘It’s a virtually painless procedure, and over the years I’ve got to know the team that come down to Penzance,’ she said.

‘They are a friendly bunch, I give blood and have a bit of a natter and a catch up with them. 

‘It’s such a small thing you can do but it’s massive for the family of the person you save.’

Mike Stredder, director of blood donation at the NHSBT, added: ‘We have an increasingly diverse population which means we need increasingly diverse blood donors.

‘This can be particularly important in the case of very rare blood types – some types are almost only found in people from certain ethnic backgrounds.

‘Our very rare donors like Sue are invaluable and we’re so grateful that she donates. 

‘If someone with a very rare blood type falls ill, there may be only a handful of donors in the whole country who can help them, or even just one.

‘People from diverse backgrounds are more likely to very rare types and we especially need more black blood donors.’

Make an appointment to donate blood here.  



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