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June 20, 2019

New York donor sends two units of ultra-rare blood to Florida toddler for her fight against cancer

January 12, 2019
Zainab Mughal, a 2-year-old girl, has a rare blood type that makes it tough to find a donor. (OneBlood)

It’s like finding a needle in a million haystacks — and miraculously, it just happened in New York.

An unidentified local woman is a blood type match for little Zainab Mughal, the 2-year-old Florida cancer victim who needs nearly impossible-to-find donors for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. The woman, a new mom who delivered her child two weeks ago, agreed to donate two units of her blood to the tiny patient in the Sunshine State.


“She has generously allowed allowed her rare units to be sent to Florida,” said Dr. Connie Westhoff, executive science director for the New York Blood Center.

The woman had stored the blood in case it was needed to treat her during the pregnancy or delivery.

“As diverse as New York is, we’ve only see three people with this blood type in the last 15 years,” said Westhoff.

“But since we are so diverse, the likelihood of finding a compatible donor in New York is the highest.”

Targeted blood drives in New York, Florida and other locations are planned in an effort to identify the few and far between matches needed for Zainab to survive. An international hunt for the right blood was also underway.

Zainab was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in October 2018.
Zainab was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in October 2018. (OneBlood)

Zainab would need seven to 10 units of blood for her transplant, along with additional post-surgery transfusions.

The medical problems are twofold for the little girl: First, she needs frequent blood transfusions for treatment of the aggressive neuroblastoma. And second, her extraordinarily uncommon blood type rules out 99.9% of potential donors.

Little Zainab’s problem is a missing antigen, known as the Indian-b, commonly found on the surface of virtually every red blood cell.

The result: Her immune system requires an exact, precise transfusion from donors with the same missing antigen. There are approximately 360 different antigens on the surface of red blood cells.

“This is a lifelong thing,” acknowledged Westhoff of the rare blood type. “But certainly the focus now is to get her through the transplant.”

People of Iranian, Indian and Pakistani descent are the likeliest matches, yet officials say only 4% of potential donors from those ethnic groups will make the medical cut as possibilities.

“This is the best region in the country to find somebody for her,” said Westhoff. “That’s why we want to encourage people to come forward and be tested, especially those in those ethnic groups.”

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