I still remember the day in December of 2012 when I was told that I had tested positive for Kell antibodies during my third pregnancy. It changed my life and my family forever. My red cell antibodies (maternal alloimmunization) attacked my baby in utero (hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn) which resulted in her death halfway through my pregnancy. I went on to have three more high risk pregnancies affected by my antibodies, but thankfully those babies survived. Many doctors, specialists and nurses put in a lot of hard work to bring my babies into the world safely. Only after I lost my first daughter to my antibodies did I learn that there was another group of people working behind the scenes to help my babies survive.
This is the world of blood and plasma products. Donor plasma is used to create blood typing tests which are necessary for the safety of blood transfusions and organ donations. The blood typing tests are also used to identify red cell antibodies during pregnancy.
Donor plasma is also used to create Rh (D) Immune Globulin (often known by the brand name RhoGAM™) to prevent Rh- women from creating anti-D antibodies. Several months after my daughter was stillborn I heard about specialty plasma donation and I realized that my anti-Kell antibodies could actually be put to good use. I could help protect other babies from HDFN by donating plasma. I have donated plasma many times since 2013 and would like to share more information about the process so that other women with antibodies can participate if they are interested.
At the end of 2020 I was able to tour Southern Blood Services, a specialty plasma center, and meet some of their plasma donors. I brought along my two month old son, August, who had HDFN. Throughout my very high risk pregnancy with August we used blood and plasma products that directly contributed to his survival. It was very special to meet plasma donors who donate on a regular basis to help babies like August.
One of the donors I met was Molly, who has anti-D antibodies. Her plasma is used to create Rh (D) Immune Globulin which is used to prevent other women from creating anti-D antibodies in pregnancy. Molly donates twice per week and has been donating for almost 40 years. It is incredible to think about how many babies she has potentially saved through her plasma donations.
I also met Anita, who has anti-Fyb (Duffy) antibodies and has been donating plasma for 31 years. After giving birth to twin boys 41 years ago, Anita needed blood transfusions to save her life. She thinks this is how she developed the antibodies. Unfortunately, one of her twins was born without kidneys and no bladder (a condition unrelated to the antibodies.) He passed away several days after birth. Anita was able to go on to have three more healthy pregnancies that were thankfully unaffected by her Duffy antibodies. After the birth of her fourth child, she saw an ad in the newspaper about plasma donation and contacted Southern Blood Services to learn more about it. They tested Anita’s blood and told her she did indeed have Duffy antibodies and she has been donating regularly ever since. Anita loves that she can help protect babies and get paid while doing it. Her plasma is used to create antiserum which is used to test patients for Duffy antibodies.
If you have ever been pregnant and live in the US or Canada, you have probably been tested for these antibodies during your routine first trimester blood work.
The plasma donation process takes about 45 minutes and can safely be done twice per week. Southern Blood Services is currently looking for new donors for their Rh Incompatibility Program and their Red Cell Antibody Program. If you qualify to be a donor for their Red Cell Antibody Program (anti-c, anti-C, anti-E, anti-K, anti-M, anti-N, anti-S, and others), SBS will pay for your transportation and hotel accommodations while you donate at one of their locations. They also compensate you for each donation. You can learn more about Southern Blood Services at https://southernbloodservices.com/ If you are interested in donating plasma, contact Martina Sertell at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.