Abu Dhabi resident undergoes life-saving heart surgery after global search for rare blood group

Abu Dhabi - The hospital has unveiled details of the hunt for the rare blood group and the subsequent surgery that was performed in December last year.

By Staff Report

Published: Tue 1 Jun 2021, 12:17 PM

Last updated: Tue 1 Jun 2021, 12:36 PM

A global search for a rare blood type and international collaboration has given a new lease of life to an Abu Dhabi resident.

Seven units of blood were collected from within the UAE, abroad and from the patient herself to perform a life-saving heart surgery.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has unveiled details of the hunt for the rare blood group and the subsequent surgery that was performed in December last year. The patient has now recovered fully.

Health complications

In 2018, Daina Bautista began having bouts of coughing that was initially diagnosed as asthma. Follow-up scans revealed that three valves in her heart were damaged. Wary of undergoing surgery, Daina resumed her life as normal.

By 2020, her conditioned deteriorated.

“I knew something was wrong, but I wanted to focus on my work and family. Eventually, I couldn’t walk for more than a few minutes without losing my breath and needing to rest. I was always short of breath and even everyday tasks became very hard for me,” said Daina.

Admitted to a hospital for a surgery, Daina was told that the team hadn’t been able to find a blood match in over 100 samples.

She was then transferred to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

The Transfusion Medicine Pathology team at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi found that Daina had the rare B+ blood group, which is found in only about 9 per cent of people. It also lacked the JK3 protein, an extremely rare phenotype.

This meant she could only receive blood from donors who both matched her blood type and also lacked that specific protein.

Search for blood donors

Dr. Manuel Algora, a clinical pathologist and director of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s blood bank, said: “As soon as we discovered that Daina’s blood lacked the JK3 protein, we began our search for donors within the UAE and abroad.”

The team began working with the Abu Dhabi Blood Bank to find suitable donors. A compatible donor was found in Abu Dhabi and was able to donate one of the six units needed for the surgery. As blood donors can only give blood every eight weeks, Dr Algora then widened the search, contacting blood banks across the UAE, Gulf region and as far afield as Malaysia and Spain.

The search was limited by the complexity of transporting blood - it can only remain outside medical freezers for a few hours before it can no longer be used. Eventually, two units of matching blood were found in Kuwait.

Dr. Algora and his team worked with the Abu Dhabi Blood Bank to collect four units of blood from Daina herself.

“Self-donation has very different requirements. As Daina had strong haemoglobin, we were able to administer treatment to boost her red blood cell production so that she could safely self-donate at a rate of once per week,” said Dr Algora.

Why blood is vital for surgeries

Dr. Umer Darr, the heart surgeon who led Daina’s surgery, explained that blood is the foundation of modern surgery.

“If we can’t replace the blood lost to bleeding during surgery, many of the surgeries we take for granted today simply could not happen. Even with minimally invasive surgery, it’s vital that we have blood on hand to ensure patient safety.

“When I heard we had the blood needed to repair Daina’s heart valves, I was thrilled. We could finally move ahead and get her back to living a full life,” said Dr Umer.

Daina’s surgery took place on December 15, more than three months after it was initially scheduled.

Daina Bautista. Photo Supplied
Daina Bautista. Photo Supplied

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