A DETERMINED student who has been given almost 1,000 pints of blood in transfusions to fight a rare disease says he owes his life to kind donors.
Leon Zielinski was not expected to live past 13-years-old after being born with an illness that affects just seven babies each year in the UK.
Now aged 23, he is the face of a regional NHS campaign to persuade people to donate blood and save lives like his own.
Last week he underwent his 303rd blood transfusion at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and will need hundreds more in the future.
He has to be given up to three pints every three weeks to cope with a condition called Black Fan Diamond Syndrome – a failure of his body to make red blood cells, causing anaemia that leaves him feeling extremely lethargic.
Leon, who is studying IT at Hartlepool College of Further Education, in Stockton Street, said: “I would like to say a big thank you to all blood donors, old and new, for giving me the gift of life.
“Without all you special people who take the time out to help me and lots of others I wouldn’t be here today enjoying my life. I owe my life to you.”
Doctors told his mum Joanne Armstrong, 39, that her son had the rare syndrome at just eight weeks old.
She was also told then that he was unlikely to live to the age of 13.
Joanne, who lives in Park Road, Hartlepool, said: “It was a total shock to find out your new baby has something terribly wrong with them and then to hear he might not live very long.
“But since then, medical treatments have really come along and he is now 23 and going strong. His organs are all ok and he is doing well.
“When his blood count is low though, he becomes very lethargic and can’t be bothered to do anything. But when he gets his transfusion, he comes out full of life.”
Thanks to the donations, Leon, who has slight learning difficulties due to his condition, can live a full and active life.
He is a regular at Hartlepool United football matches and his mum says he is a “character” who is well known by everyone at the college.
But if he did not get the transfusions, Leon, whose step-dad is J&B Recycling worker Martin Egglestone, 35, would not be here today.
Joanne, who also has a 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, and two-year-old son Will, added: “A lot of people think blood is always in the blood bank and is never going to run out and not needed until there is a major accident or surgery, but there are people who rely on blood for life. If Leon did not get the blood it would be a life and death situation.
“Leon is an inspiration to everyone he meets and never lets his illness get him down. I want to pat blood donors on the back for the work they do which gives my son the gift of life.”