Grieving parents press awareness of importance of blood donation

The parents of a young girl who died following complications as a result of a rare blood condition are highlighting the importance of blood donation in her memory.

Holly Gormley from Strabane, Co Tyrone, died at the age of 11 in July.

Her mother Claire described her daughter’s condition, aplastic anaemia, as affecting her immune system.

She received numerous blood transfusions and platelet transfusions from big-hearted strangers across Northern Ireland during her life.

As Holly’s family mark her “heavenly birthday” on Tuesday December 5, they are working with the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) to raise awareness and encourage everyone to donate blood or platelets.

Northern Ireland needs 1,200 blood donors every week, roughly one every eight minutes.

“Aplastic anaemia means your bone marrow doesn’t work, so Holly had no immune system whatsoever. She was open to every infection going, and these infections were potentially fatal to Holly,” Mrs Gormley said.

Holly’s father Gareth said the family were “totally oblivious” to the extent that donated blood is needed.

Mrs Gormley continued: “Gareth and I both saw first-hand when we went up to The Royal (Belfast Hospital for Sick Children) and to the haematology ward where there were sick children, and the amount of blood products that’s needed there is unbelievable, even for children who have cancer. We saw a completely different world up there.”

Holly’s aunt Geraldine Robinson, a blood donor herself, described how the bubbly pupil of St Catherine’s Primary, became reliant on donated blood and platelets, which was needed to give Holly the strength to undergo chemotherapy and AGT therapy ahead of a bone marrow transplant.

The girl’s family and friends have also been tireless in their effort to raise awareness and funds for the Anthony Nolan Trust, as well as the haematology and oncology units at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. The family are currently raising funds for the hospital through the sale of badges.

In October, Holly’s family, friends and local community turned out in force at the Strabane blood donation session held in Holly’s memory.

A total of 117 blood donations were collected, and with every donation estimated to save or improve three lives, that session has likely saved more than 350 people’s lives in Northern Ireland.

Now the family are looking to build on that record-breaking success with the help of Holy Cross College by holding further blood donation sessions each year in memory of Holly, creating a truly lifesaving legacy.

Mr Gormley said giving blood or platelets is a practical way in which people can help those in need.

“People want to find a way to help: ‘give blood, save lives’, says it all. We just want people to come out and give blood. It’s the one thing everybody has and it’s the one thing everybody can give for free.”

Mrs Gormley added: “Don’t be afraid to come out and give blood. It’s so easy, it’s painless, free, you’ll feel great afterwards knowing that you’ve done something good.

“We’ve seen first-hand what it does and how much it’s needed.”

Barbara Mullin, head of supply chain and testing services at the NIBTS thanked the family for their efforts, and echoed their call.

“On behalf of all recipients of donated blood and platelets, our volunteers and staff, we wish to say a huge thank you to the Gormley family for their remarkable generosity and dedicated support for blood donation,” she said.

“We join the Gormley family circle in encouraging everyone to become a blood or platelet donor. If you have been inspired by Holly’s lifesaving legacy, please reach out to us on social media or search ‘Give Blood NI’ to join us as a blood or platelet donor.”

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