Meet the Yorkshire airline pilot who was made redundant and now collects plasma from Covid-19 patients for the NHS

A Yorkshire airline captain who was made redundant during lockdown is now working with survivors of the disease which cost him his job.
Nick Gifford, from Scarcroft near Leeds, previously worked for Brussels AirlinesNick Gifford, from Scarcroft near Leeds, previously worked for Brussels Airlines
Nick Gifford, from Scarcroft near Leeds, previously worked for Brussels Airlines

Nick Gifford, 52, flew passenger aircraft for Brussels Airlines, based in Belgium, before coronavirus decimated the aviation industry this spring.

Now the experienced pilot of 13 years, from Scarcroft near Leeds, has retrained and has a new role collecting plasma from Covid-19 patients for the NHS Blood and Transplant service.

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The father-of-two's job enables vital research to be carried out using the plasma - which is found in a patient's blood - of Covid-19 survivors who are recovering.

The donors are people who have had either symptoms or a positive test, and the NHS has urged more men to volunteer as they generally have higher antibody levels than women.

Mr Gifford has settled on his new profession after working as an Amazon delivery driver and a window cleaner during lockdown.

“Losing my job was massive blow - your world gets thrown into chaos. But I dusted myself off and put my attention into something new,” he said.

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“I tried my hand at all sorts: deliveries, Amazon driver, window cleaning and helping people overcome their fear of flying.

“I saw NHSBT were recruiting people to help collect blood plasma donations from recovered Covid patients. It seemed like a good opportunity to give back and feel like you’re making a difference.

“When I captained my first passenger flight it really was a dream come true. It’s something I had always longed to do since I was a child.

“There were lots of ‘pinch yourself’ moments; one minute you’re flying into New York, the next you’re witnessing the Northern Lights shimmering overhead whilst navigating across Iceland. It was an incredible time.”

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He is currently training to become a donor carer at Leeds Bridle Path Donor Centre.

“I’m really enjoying it. There are plenty of new skills to learn, and the team is very friendly.

“You get chatting to all kinds of donors affected in different ways by the virus. People who barely had a cold, and some who were hospitalised. They’re all heroes in my eyes.”

More than 1,250 donations of convalescent plasma have been taken at donor centres in Yorkshire. Around 50 people have received plasma transfusions in hospitals across Yorkshire.

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NHS Blood and Transport associate director Professor David Roberts said: “We urgently need more convalescent plasma donations in Leeds, to help make sure plasma is readily available if we have a second wave.

“Leeds has seen an increase in positive cases in recent weeks. We urgently need as many people as possible who have recovered to donate, to help us make as much progress as possible now.”

“We especially need men who’ve had coronavirus to donate as they generally have higher antibody levels. You could save lives.”

There are collection centres in Leeds city centre and in Seacroft, as well as in Sheffield and Bradford.

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Donation takes about 45 minutes. The whole visit - including the donation, snacks and checks - takes about an hour and 15 minutes. The body usually replaces the plasma donated within 24-48 hours.

If you’ve had confirmed coronavirus or the symptoms, you can volunteer to donate plasma today at .