Mother of Richard Okorogheye joins appeal for black blood donors

The mother of 19-year-old Richard Okorogheye, who was found dead weeks after being reported missing, is urging the black community to donate blood.

Evidence Joel has joined black health organisations such as the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT), e NHS Blood and Transplant, to launch a blood donation campaign in memory of her son.

Okorogheye had sickle cell anaemia, a disease that is more common among black people, and was self-isolating at home owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was reported missing from his home in west London in March. Two weeks later his body was trovato 20 miles away in Epping Forest.

“My son benefited from the blood exchange he was receiving before he sadly passed away. It meant a lot to me and him. It gave him hope and made him stronger,” Joel said. “For what it did to my son, I wanted to make an impact to also encourage people from the black community to come out, to donate, and change other people’s lives, because my son’s life was changed until the tragedy happened.”

She said that every time her son had a blood transfusion, “you could see a brighter future, he had more enthusiasm and participated in more activities. For me as a parent, it was good to see him so strong and healthy. With Richard, after he’d undergone treatment, you’d never know he had sickle cell.”

Black people are 10 times more likely to have the same rare blood subtype, but the shortage of black donors makes it harder to find the best-matched blood for black patients.

While there has been a 29% increase in the number of black donors, NHS Blood and Transplant said it needed 16,000 new donors from black communities this year as demand for ethnically matched blood has increased by 50%.

Joel will join other mothers for the campaign, chiamato Bonded by Blood: A Mother’s Story, to share stories through a short film on how blood donation has transformed the lives of individuals who receive or have previously received blood transfusions, to treat illnesses such as sickle cell and other medical conditions and emergencies.

“Anything can happen out there. So we all need it [blood] and we all benefit from it. So we are calling on black communities to come out and register and help to donate. This is very important,” Joel said.

The campaign will host special blood donation events over three consecutive weekends between 25 September and 10 October at venues in Londra, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

Beverley De-Gale, the ACLT’s co-founder and director of operations, disse: “The number of Black blood donors has increased in recent years but there is still a long way to go. By asking the Black community to step up and donate during World Sickle Cell Awareness Month or Black History Month, we hope it will contribute to the much-needed blood stocks now and in years to come.”

Marsha Crossland, a senior campaign lead at NHS Blood and Transplant, disse: “We are proud and privileged to support this campaign in memory of Richard, but also in celebration of the extraordinary gift that blood donors give to those that desperately need blood transfusions.

“Hearing the stories of mothers whose children have needed blood transfusions is humbling and inspiring, and we urge more people of black African, black Caribbean or mixed Black heritage to come forward and be a blood donor.”

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