The holidays are among the most critical times of year for blood centers. Busy with decorating, shopping, partying and planning family get-togethers, folks may be forgiven for putting blood donation on the back burner.

“It’s certainly far more challenging this time of year,” confirmed OneBlood Vice President of Marketing and Communications Susan Forbes. “That’s why we let people know the need for blood never stops. The blood supply is needed on a holiday and every other day of the year. We encourage people to give that gift of life year-round.”

OneBlood is leading a worldwide search to find some of the rarest blood in the world to help save 2-year-old Zainab, a South Florida girl who is battling neuroblastoma, a very aggressive cancer. Forbes is hopeful the campaign will be a success for Zainab while also encouraging others to donate blood in the coming weeks.

To be a match with Zainab, a donor must be of Pakistani, Indian or Iranian descent, meaning the donor’s birth parents are both 100 percent Pakistani, Indian or Iranian. The donor also must be blood type “O” or “A.”

“By sharing the story of this little girl, we’re also shedding light on the importance of having a diverse blood supply,” Forbes said.

OneBlood is part of the American Rare Donor Program, a cooperative effort of the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks. The program helps ensure that patients with rare blood needs can find matching blood when they need it.

A person’s blood is considered rare if only one in 1,000 or more individuals lack the same antigen as the person in question. If only one in 10,000 or more people lack the same antigen, that individual’s blood is considered very rare.

Zainab’s blood is rare because she is missing a common antigen most people carry on their red blood cells. The antigen is called Indian B. For a person to be a possible match for Zainab, they must also be missing the Indian B antigen, or the little girl’s body will reject the blood. Locating people who are missing the Indian B antigen comes down to genetics.

Among the populations likely to be a match for Zainab (people of Pakistani, Indian or Iranian descent), less than four percent are missing the Indian B antigen.

So far, three matching donors have been located, one in the United Kingdom and two others the United States. A total of seven to 10 compatible donors are needed, however, since poor Zainab will need blood transfusions for the foreseeable future.

“Zainab’s story really has captivated the world, and it’s shining a spotlight on the importance of blood donations,” Forbes said. “It is an eye-opening moment.”

OneBlood has been part of the rare donor program for years. In fact, the blood bank has been recognized for providing the rarest units to the National Blood Marrow Donor Program, a companion to the American Rare Donor Program.

“People are discovering what goes on here at OneBlood behind the scenes in finding these rare donors for patients like Zainab,” said Forbes.

“We help patients not only locally,” she added, “but if we have a rare unit that somebody needs somewhere else, we send it. We sent a unit to Canada recently, and we send blood wherever it’s needed to help somebody. Our donors make this possible.”

For more information, including some photos of Zainab guaranteed to break your heart, visit www.oneblood.org. That’s also the place to go if you think you or anyone you know might be a match.

“We encourage people to make donating a habit,” said Forbes. “If you’ve never donated before, do it, because you will literally be making a life-saving difference for people. Blood can only be passed from one person to another; there is no substitute. So come in and donate each and every time you’re eligible. By doing that, you’re helping ensure a ready and diverse blood supply for our community.”

Donor centers in North Port (14820 Tamiami Trail), Port Charlotte (23080 Harborview Road) and Venice (4155 S. Tamiami Trail) are open from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, and the Big Red Bus will be at the Outback Steakhouse in Port Charlotte (1481 Tamiami Trail) from noon to 6 p.m.

Can you think of better way to kick off 2019 than giving the gift of life?

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Call Dan Mearns at 941-893-9692 or email danmearns@gmail.com.

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