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Ohio Blood Centers Join Search For Extremely Rare Type To Save Little Girl

Dec 10, 2018

Blood centers around Ohio are participating in the nationwide search for extremely rare blood donors to help save the life of a 2-year-old girl in Florida.

Zainab Mughal is battling neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer, and treating her condition requires multiple blood transfusions. Unfortunately Zainab's blood is missing the Indian B antigen, limiting the pool of blood donors to a microscopic number. The only people likely to match must be exclusively of Pakistani, Indian or Iranian descent, and even then, less than four percent of that population will match.

A worldwide search is on for potential donors through the American Rare Donor Program. Blood centers across the Buckeye State tell WVXU they're actively participating by screening for potential matches and reaching out to parts of their communities that may have donors that fit the right donor pool.

As of Friday, three possible donors had been identified in Cincinnati and another one or two in Dayton. The Cincinnati-area donors are being tested by Hoxworth Blood Center. Samples from Community Blood Center in Dayton will be sent for testing at OneBlood in Florida which is leading the search.

If there's a match, "that blood will have to be processed and tested to make sure that it's safe for the recipient, and then will be collected and provided to her," says David Oh, M.D., chief medical officer for Hoxworth Blood Center.

Requests for rare blood types usually don't receive this much attention.

"Most of the searches go on quietly through the American Rare Donor Program," Oh says. "This is a particularly rare patient so there's been a little bit more of a public request for finding donors that are compatible."

Elyria-based Vitalant, which serves Northeast Ohio, is organizing blood drives with several Cleveland-area mosques to try to find matching donors.

Community Blood Center in Dayton is also planning a drive, most likely in West Chester.

Red Cross locations around the state are joining the search as well. Buckeye Region Red Cross spokeswoman Fay Thompson says no potential matches have been identified yet. Christina Peters of Northeast Ohio Red Cross reports the same.

Dr. David Oh (right) says Hoxworth has the ability to test blood in-house to see if potential donors are a match for Zainab.
Credit Courtesy of Hoxworth

Searching For Rare Blood Types

Hoxworth reports it averages 15 new requests each month for rare donors. "Many of these patients are receiving multiple donations each month," says Public Information Officer Alecia Lipton. "For example, an individual with sickle cell might be transfused twice each month for a lifetime."

At Community Blood Center, Reference Lab Supervisor Gavin Patch says requests from the rare donor program still arrive by fax machine.

"We probably get ... four to five everyday," he says.

That's on top of patients the center already serves. Patch points to a patient in Fort Hamilton, Ohio, who needs regular transfusions, and another woman in Eastern Ohio who needs blood with a rare antigen only found in people of Amish descent.

The majority of rare donor requests, Patch says, are for types specific to African-American patients, who typically carry more negative antigens.

"The biggest request - and the toughest request - in the nation right now is RH negative and U negative donors," Patch explains. "U is an antigen that can only be negative in African-Americans."

Patch says he's required to screen around 1,000 people for rare types each year as part of the rare blood program.

How To Help Zainab (And Others)

Zainab will need regular transfusions for the foreseeable future. OneBlood of Florida wants to identify seven to 10 compatible donors.

You must meet the following criteria to be a potential match for Zainab:

  • Must be exclusively of Pakistani, Indian or Iranian descent – meaning the donor's birth parents are both 100 percent Pakistani, Indian or Iranian.
  • Must be blood type "O" or "A."
  • Donors must inform the blood center prior to donation that they are donating for Zainab to ensure the donation receives the additional compatibility testing necessary.

Even if you are not a potential match for Zainab, blood centers across Ohio tell WVXU donors are needed to replenish supplies nationwide following the wildfires in California.

Participating Blood Centers In Ohio: