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Richhill woman launches blood donation drive in memory of ‘amazing’ father

Poignantly, the donation day also takes place just three days after what would have been Geordie’s 68th birthday

A Richhill woman is marking a year since her late father was admitted into Craigavon Area Hospital with a blood donation session in his memory.

In the eight months since losing her beloved father to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, Rhonda-Jane Greenaway has become intensely passionate about sharing the importance of blood donation.

Speaking to Armagh I, Rhonda-Jane explains how they first knew something was wrong: “My dad took ill around this time last year. He became extremely fatigued and tired. He was a builder and part-time farmer and worked morning until night quite literally.

“It got to the point that he just couldn’t do that anymore. He knew himself that there was something wrong.”

Following several doctors’ appointments and tests, her father received a call from his consultant on June 5 informing him that he needed to attend hospital with an overnight bag.

However, it transpired that his stay was to be for more than a single night.

Said Rhonda-Jane: “We knew he was being admitted for tests and a blood transfusion but when he went to the doors that morning the consultant met him and said, ‘George I don’t even know how you’re able to stand there because your bloods and platelets are so low’.”

Almost 10 days later, after several CT scans, bone marrow tests, blood tests and transfusions George and his family received the “brutal” diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

“It turned our world upside down. Such a shock, we knew there was something not quite right but not to that extent,” continued Rhonda-Jane.

“He was always a very real person in life in general and spoke to people in a very real and direct manner, but he also appreciated that in return.

“When he was given his diagnosis, he had asked the doctor, ‘What does this mean?’, and the doctor said they would have him blue-lighted down to the hospital straight away to start treatment. He asked, ‘What happens if I don’t go for the treatment?’. The words were, ‘You have a matter of weeks George’.”

A family portrait with Geordie centre, taken in September 2023

George was admitted to Belfast City Hospital on June 14 where he remained an in-patient for 10 weeks.

Her father, the “amazing” George ‘Geordie’ Hylands, sadly passed away on October 19 following a four-month battle with the blood cancer.

In the subsequent months, a grief-stricken Rhonda-Jane found herself seeking some clarity. She contacted her father’s consultant and was blown away by what she heard.

She said: “I asked daddy’s consultant how many blood and platelet transfusions he had had in his time. He was in the Belfast Trust area but I did a wee bit of homework and contacted Craigavon as well because he had also had transfusion there.

“In his time from June 5 until he passed on October 19 he had 82 blood and platelet transfusions.

“That maybe sounds like a long time but that’s 136 days and in 136 days he had 82 transfusions.”

It dawned on Rhonda-Jane that this number was for her father alone and, as she says, “there are thousands of people every day needing transfusions”.

In light of this, she is now preparing to run a “lifesaving” donation session at Richhill Presbyterian Church on Wednesday June 5, from 12.30pm – 7.30pm.

Poignantly, the donation day also takes place just three days after what would have been Geordie’s 68th birthday.

The donation session is set to accommodate 144 donors throughout the day and has now only 20 to 25 spaces remaining.

A determined Rhonda-Jane said: “I’m not going to stop until these slots are filled.

“I’m the first person to give blood that day and I will be there the whole entire day and I want to thank people personally on behalf of daddy and the rest of our family.

“There’s people I know coming who have never given blood and have a needle phobia but are still going and giving blood and I will hold their hand and get them through it.

“With 30 minutes of your time you can save three people’s lives. There’s nothing better you can do with your time.”

The family’s passion for raising funds and awareness for blood donation extends far beyond the donation drive itself.

In lieu of flowers for Geordie’s funeral the family raised £2,620, which was split between Haemotology in Craigavon and Friends of Cancer Centre in Belfast.

They have also purchased a bench to be placed in one of Geordie’s favourite spots at Belfast City Hospital.

Explained Rhonda-Jane: “We are a big family and when he spent time in Belfast everyone wanted to spend time with him.

“He loved being wheeled out to the picnic table outside the Cancer Centre and there’s only one picnic table there at the minute.

The new table, complete with plaque in Geordie’s memory, is scheduled to arrive at the centre on June 14, marking one year since he was first admitted into Belfast City Hospital.

You can book your slot at the Blood Donation Sessions via the online booking portal here

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