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Loss of grandmother inspires Rice to launch health awareness campaign

Longford Town’s Stephen Rice and a number of League of Ireland footballers have pulled together to promote platelet donating.

Rice at yesterday's press conference in Abbottstown.
Rice at yesterday's press conference in Abbottstown.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

LIKE MANY PEOPLE, Longford Town midfielder Stephen Rice first heard about platelet transfusions when the life of a loved one became dependent on them.

Platelets, blood cells which stop bleeding and bruising, are used to help patients suffering from cancer, burns and extensive injuries as well as premature and new born babies. They are also vital for those receiving chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.

In Ireland, over 50 transfusions are given everyday and 22,000 are needed annually but, unfortunately, very few people are eligible to donate — which makes it even more important for those who can do to so.

At FAI headquarters in Abbottstown yesterday, Rice was joined by SSE Airtricity League director Fran Given, Josephine Lawlor of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) and a number of current players to launch a new campaign to raise platelet awareness.

And, having witnessed first hand the importance of donating, the cause is particularly close to his heart.

I’m really passionate about this as I lost my grandmother to leukemia in December 2013,” Rice, an ambassador for the campaign, told The42.

“I saw how important platelet transfusions were for her quality of life for three years. It scared me that I had never heard of them before yet they were playing such a huge role in helping my gran survive.

“That is where the drive comes from in regard to doing anything I can to help the guys in the IBTS, who do fantastic work, as do all the donors who are already in place.

“Whether it is through the players or the league, I will do anything I can to create an awareness and get people to donate.”

SSE Airtricity League Platelets Campaign Launch Back row (l-r): Drogheda United goalkeper Michael Schlingerman, Longford Town striker Gary Shaw, Limerick defender Aidan Price, Callan Donnegan aged 10 from Dublin, St Patrick's Athletic defender Jason McGuinness and Shamrock Rovers defender Conor Kenna. Front row (l-r): St Patrick's Athletic defender Ger O'Brien, Shamrock Rovers winger Sean O'Connor, Longford Town midfielder and FAI Platelets ambassador Stephen Rice and Bohemians striker Dean Kelly. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

League of Ireland players around the country will wear t-shirts and wristbands promoting donations during the warm-ups of this week’s matches and Rice is urging everybody to text PLATELETFAI to 53377 to receive information on platelets and find out if they are a suitable donor.

“There has been a huge response to the text line,” he revealed. “It takes time to filter through the donors because it is quite specific. There are only 2,400 people in the country eligible in comparison to the 20,000 donations we need a year.

“It’s not possible for everyone to donate but even if people are talking about it then hopefully more will understand what they are. Often when you hear about them it is because someone in your family is personally facing cancer. If you can be proactive by donating or enticing other people to do so, then it can make a real difference.”

Just as the Irish football community pulled together to get behind Gary O’Neill when the then Drogheda United striker was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013, Rice believes players and fans alike can be key to the promoting platelet awareness after witnessing current and former team-mates turning up to lend their support.

It sums up the league for me,” the former Shamrock Rovers man said. “It gets a lot of stick for different reasons but all it took was a text or a call to get these lads to support.  I’ve played with all the lads who are here and they were straight out to help.

“There is a lot of good in the league. When the fans, the players, the FAI, the league and Fran Given get together, we can help. Like the support Nailer (O’Neill) got last year. It is something similar.”

Stephen Rice celebrates after his side scored a second goal Rice believes Longford will be fine in the Premier Division despite losing their first two games of the season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

On the pitch, newly-promoted Longford Town have endured a difficult start to life back in the Premier Division after suffering defeats in their opening two games. Rice is confident Tony Cousins’ men are experienced enough to start picking up points sooner rather than later, however.

“We’ve got to be realistic as we had the toughest start you could probably have — away to Dundalk and at home to Shamrock Rovers,” he admitted ahead of Friday’s trip to face Limerick at Jackman Park. “Will we be challenging in the top 4? No. But we’ve got to identify where we can pick up points.

“The performances haven’t been bad and we had a lot of chances on Saturday but they took theirs and we didn’t. Overall the performance wasn’t bad and likewise in Dundalk. We just need to start converting the chances and I think we will be okay.”

For more information on the IBTS’s Platelet Awareness campaign, text PLATELETFAI to 53377 and visit giveblood.ie

Originally published at 00.10am

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Ben Blake

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