Jenny Walton qualified from Edinburgh in 1998. After the birth of her first daughter in 2002, she worked nights for Vets Now, and saw a need for blood products in the emergency and critical care field. As a result, she ran a pilot trial on canine blood banking in the north-east of England, and has been veterinary supervisor for Pet Blood Bank UK since the charity's launch in 2007
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What made you become involved in canine blood banking?
At university, internal medicine was taught by Andy Mackin, who had worked previously in the USA and Australia, where blood components had been readily available. He regularly commented how frustrating it was that we did not have such products in the UK. Late one night, when I was dealing with an exsanguinating dog, his comments really hit home.
At the time, I was on the Vets Now clinical board, and we decided that it was time to try to find a solution to the issue. A local trial made components available, and made the difference every few weeks between cases surviving or not.
The company decided that more could be done than small-scale provision of blood components to its own clinics, and, as the legislation had recently changed, that investigating a UK blood bank would be the way forward. A forward-thinking veterinary nurse, Wendy Barnett – another member of the clinical board – was given the task of going to the USA to research the logistics and of putting a proposal together. To cut a long story short, she set up and became director of the Pet Blood Bank UK. I became the veterinary supervisor due to my interests and accumulated knowledge during the trial.
Why did you take this career path?
There was an obvious need for a service, and I relished the enthusiasm and support available within the company to be involved in something that would make a difference to the UK veterinary profession.
How do you spend a typical day?
My typical day/night is tricky to define! I work two night shifts every fortnight at Middlesbrough Vets Now, keeping up to date in emergency critical care.
Working from home, I take calls from practitioners asking for advice. I assess results from donors and liaise with the lab manager to release units, and I analyse the collection session data to see what we can do to improve sessions. I also gather and edit clinical support literature, as education and articles on transfusion medicine are really important. I supervise two blood collection sessions a month in the north-east and travel regularly, most often to the Midlands base for meetings, VMD legislative duties and training new staff and phlebotomists. We are often invited to lecture practitioner groups, and benefit from attending UK and international conferences.
I liaise regularly with our US-based veterinary blood bank adviser, who has 20 years' experience in the field, as well as our National Blood Service adviser, who has vast experience in human blood banking.
What do you like about your job?
I really appreciate the people I work with in the blood bank and the critical care roles. In the collection part of my job, I enjoy seeing the donors and their owners come back; some of them have donated 15 times now.
What do you not like?
Personally, the sometimes crazy hours I put in, and the time away from my family. Work-wise, running a volunteer programme is intensive. If I had a magic wand, I would ensure that every UK practitioner typed every recipient needing a red cell transfusion, and used DEA 1.1 type-matched blood. This would mean we could maximise all the donors offered to us.
Why is your job important?
It makes a difference to the canine population. Rational, ethically thought out and prudent use of blood components is often life-saving.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Be prepared to work hard, be enthusiastic, and recognise, nurture and appreciate the talents of the people around you.
What's the best piece of advice you can give others?
Although, when enthused, it is hard for others to get a word in edgeways, I try to stop and listen . . . I internalise the information, digest it, respect and learn from people, and when making decisions go with what I think is right . . . so my advice to anyone else would always be ‘learn to listen’.
What was your proudest moment?
The first time we achieved a staffing level and training regime that allowed VNs to perform the phlebotomy – using their natural talents to the full – was a really good moment in the blood bank's history. In my personal life, I am proud to have managed to juggle my life to spend a lot of time with my two little girls – I don't always get it right, but I hope I will be able to look back and not have regrets.
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