My Health Experience: I’m so grateful to the blood donors who saved my life

Due to acute complications during the birth of my son, Charlie, I needed a major blood transfusion

Emma Gilbey and her husband, Robert, with their son, Charlie. Emma had a massive haemorrhage after giving birth and lost almost four litres of blood.

Emma Gilbey and her husband, Robert, with their son, Charlie. Emma had a massive haemorrhage after giving birth and lost almost four litres of blood.


When I went into labour with my first baby, I never expected to end up in intensive care fighting for my life following the birth, but that’s exactly what happened.

Charlie was born on February 7th, 2012. I had some problems with my pregnancy, including acute food poisoning at 13 weeks for which I had to be hospitalised for five days. I also suffered recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) which causes pelvic pain, towards the end of the pregnancy.

I had a 41-hour labour from the time my waters broke to delivery and I suffered a
catalogue of acute complications during
labour including extreme internal injuries. This culminated in a massive post-partum haemorrhage which caused me to lose just under four litres of blood. (The human body contains about 5.5 litres of blood.)

Emergency surgery
Immediately after my son was born and I mean literally immediately, I was rushed to theatre for emergency surgery.

I never got to hold Charlie or see him until two days later as after the surgery I was transferred to the intensive care unit. I was given a polaroid picture of Charlie who was in the special baby care unit.

As I had already been given an epidural, I could not be put under so I was fully conscious for the four-hour surgery while a team of 15 nurses and doctors battled to save my life.

As the doctors tried to stem the bleeding, I remember them clearly talking about the blood loss and the urgent need for blood and I heard them saying there was blood being couriered from Dublin. I could hear them checking for updates on the courier’s progress.

In those lucid moments of such a surreal, traumatic experience, I remember picturing in my mind the courier with that blood. I imagined him on his journey with the blood that would save my life and hoping that he would get to me on time. Thankfully he did.

I continued to lose blood throughout the surgery. I’ve no idea how much I lost and I don’t really want to know but my husband, Rob, overheard a theatre nurse describe the scene as being like a horror movie.

It was a hugely traumatic experience for myself, my husband Robert and our families.

I was ill for months after the surgery due to the extent of the injuries I sustained and I had to have further surgery when my son was eight months old.

My recovery is ongoing due to the complex nature of my injuries but I have improved greatly in the past two years, particularly since my last operation in October 2012. I am positive about the future and very optimistic about making a full recovery eventually.

My son is thriving. Charlie is a happy, healthy, mischievous toddler. I am so grateful to be here to see him growing up. I enjoy each and every milestone and think frequently of the blood donors who saved my life. I will be indebted to them for the rest of my life.

Importance of blood donation
When Charlie is old enough to understand, I know he too will feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude I feel towards every blood donor in the country, as without them, he would not have his mammy today.

I wasn’t a blood donor myself before this experience, although I did try on two occasions to give blood, but was unable to do so. Now, as a recipient, I cannot donate blood but I hope that by speaking about my experience, I will help create awareness about the importance of blood donation.

I still have so many unanswered questions about how a seemingly fit and healthy girl could end up critically ill in an IC unit after giving birth, which is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, but the one thing I’m eternally grateful for is the generosity of those many people who donated the blood tha t would ultimately save my life.

In conversation with

Blood: The facts

Only 3 % of the Irish population give blood.

3,000 blood donors are needed each week in Ireland.

The most common blood group in Ireland is O positive (47 per cent of the population).

The rarest blood group in Ireland is AB negative (1 per cent of the population).

One in four people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives.

More than 1,000 Irish people receive transfusions every week in Ireland.

About 70,000 patients will have transfusions in Irish hospitals this year.

One car accident victim may require up to 30 units of blood, a bleeding ulcer could require anything between three and 30 units of blood and a coronary artery bypass may use between one-five units of blood

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service has launched the ‘It’s in your Blood’ campaign, a partnership between the GAA and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, which aims to raise awareness of blood donation and access to the service for local GAA clubs and their members throughout the country.