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Community Blood Services' BloodLinks Program

Melanie August, a Catholic University College student from North Bergen, NJ
is a Bloodlinks rare donor. Melanie makes a difference every time
she makes a special, lifesaving donation!

Patients with blood disorders who require continual blood transfusions often develop antibodies to certain proteins found in blood products and need special, uniquely matched units for transfusion. Community Blood Services' Immunohematology and Platelet Reference laboratories are staffed with highly trained and knowledgeable laboratory scientists and technical experts who assist hospital transfusion specialists in finding individuals who match the special needs of these patients.

Our BloodLinks rare donor program maintains a vast inventory of specially and extensively typed blood from diverse donors in our community which it provides to help seriously ill patients requiring transfusions in our community hospitals.

    What is the purpose of Community Blood Services’ BloodLinks Program?BloodLinks ensures that all patients in our diverse community have access to blood products that have been extensively tested and uniquely matched for them whenever they might need them.
    How do I know if I am a BloodLinks donor?If it’s been determined that your blood has a combination of unique antigens or lack of specific antigens that will match, you will receive a letter with a blue tag indentifying you as a BloodLinks donor. We encourage you to donate on a routine basis to help maintain our inventory and ensure your special blood type is always there should a patient need it. When scheduling your appointment, identify yourself as a "BloodLinks" donor so your donated blood will be tagged and labeled accordingly.
    What is the difference between a BloodLinks’ donor and a donor with another more common blood type?For blood transfusions, patients are matched with donor blood based on their major blood groups, referred to as "ABO" and "Rh" blood types: O+ O- A+ A- B+ B- AB+ AB
An estimated 5% of patients will need to find blood that is an even more specific match and lacks certain antigens against which the patient has developed antibodies. Providing incompatible blood for transfusions can cause life-threatening reactions.
Community Blood Services tests for the absence of such antigens, referred to as screening or testing for rare blood. We need blood donations from more multi-cultural donors to maintain a diverse inventory of antigen-negative blood.
    What exactly is an antigen?An antigen is simply a protein found on the surface of red blood cells. There are over 250 different antigens that can be recognized by the body’s immune system.
    Why is my blood unique?Just like your hair and eye color were inherited from your parents, your unique (or rare) blood and its antigens were also inherited from them. That’s why, for example, it is very difficult to find a rare blood type needed for an African American patient that did not come from an African American donor.
    Why is it important to indicate my ethnicity when I donate?Antigens are inherited traits. Therefore, the antigen match for an Asian patient will likely come from an Asian donor. Many of our sickle cell patients need units that lack a combination of certain antigens or antigens that are common in other populations. Donors of African-American descent are more likely to have red cells lacking these mentioned antigens than any other donor populations
    Why am I just now learning I have rare blood?We test from a pool of donors to determine antigen status. Since the testing is largely driven by patient and inventory needs, you may not find out you are a rare donor the first time you donate but only after multiple donations.
    What do I do once I have been identified as a donor for the BloodLinks rare donor program?Contact our telerecruitment department at 201-251-3703 or toll free at 866-228-1500 to schedule your next donation. If possible, bring your BloodLinks blue tag with you when you come in to donate and present it to your collections specialist. The more frequently you are able to donate, the more lives you can help save!
    If I have rare blood, does everyone else in my family have rare blood?Not necessarily, but the chances are higher that will have rare blood, especially your brothers and sisters.
    Should I be worried that I have rare blood?Not at all, there is nothing wrong with your blood. You should be aware that your blood is special, however, and it may be difficult to find should you or someone else with the same rare antigens need a transfusion.
    Who might need rare blood?Patients who are regularly transfused, especially those with sickle cell disease, leukemia or thalassemia, can easily form antibodies (immune responses) to some red cell antigens. Once antibodies form, patients require very extensively and uniquely antigen-matched transfusions to prevent more antibodies. Others who require rare blood may include pregnant women, newborn infants, or patients undergoing chemotherapy.
    What could happen if rare blood is needed but not found?The medical complications can be very serious and, possibly, fatal. A transfusion of incompatible blood can cause grave harm to someone who is already weakened by disease or injury.
    If my blood is so rare, why should I donate it at all?We urgently need you to help us maintain an adequate supply of your special, rare blood type for the patients who need it. Because your blood is special, it is specially marked and stored and held for anyone who needs it. Some donors may lack an antigen that 99% of the population has. Units from the latter type of donors will be processed for freezing and can be stored for years until someone needs it, including you.
    Should I wait to be called to donate?It is not required but rare blood donors are encouraged to call the BloodLinks coordinator at 201-251-3703 or 866-228-1500 to schedule appointments. Remember you can donate blood every 56 days (up to six times a year) if you are feeling well and healthy or every 111 days if you donate double red cells.
    Should I also donate platelets?Because you are a rare blood donor, it is very important that we collect your whole blood or red blood cells, although you may be able to make an automated collection where you can donate platelets and red cells all the same time. The BloodLinks coordinator can make those arrangements for you.
    What else can I do as a rare blood donor?You can help create awareness of the need for rare blood by asking your family members to donate blood and sponsoring a blood drive within your community. To sponsor a blood drive, call 201-705-1603.

If you have been identified as a rare blood donor,you can call 201-251-3703
or 866-228-1500 to schedule your donation appointment.
Please email us if you have questions about the BloodLinks program.



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