Test hunts for fatal disorder

Sally Beardsall
Sally Beardsall

Medical laboratory staff in Sheffield are helping to save lives by diagnosing a terrifying blood disorder quicker than almost anywhere else in the country.

The disorder - called TTP - affects only six in every one million people, paralysing the body by causing clots to develop in small blood vessels.

Symptoms include fits, personality changes, chest pains and, at its worst, heart failure.

Around half of sufferers are killed with one or two days of signs appearing.

But the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s coagulation and haematology department is now able to look for the condition and offer results the very next day - the only lab in the North capable of performing the test so rapidly.

Foster carer Sally Beardsall, aged 49, said she was completely unaware she had TTP - thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura - when she developed unexplained bruises and headaches. Instead she put them down to the side-effects of medication. “I started slurring my words and there was a slightly tingling feeling on the bottom of my lip,” she said. “I thought I was having a mini-stroke.”

Doctors performed an array of tests, one of which involved the Hallamshire’s specialists.

To screen for TTP, blood samples are analysed to see if a blood-clotting protein called ADAMTS-13 is functioning properly.

Sally’s test revealed her organs were on the brink of collapse and she could have died within 24 hours.

The test’s accuracy can also prevent people who appear to have TTP from unnecessarily undergoing plasma exchange treatment, which costs the NHS around £10,000 a day.

Consultant haematologist Kingsley Hampton said: “We are delighted the highly expert skills of our department are being used to save lives.”

“Detecting the disease meant I was given prompt treatment, and I’ve had a normal blood count for nearly three years,” said Sally, from Scunthorpe.