Donating Blood can help Babies

Reporter: Andrea Burns

Babies Campbell and Ruby are blissfully oblivious to all the fuss, but their parents know they owe the lives of their healthy children to hundreds of people they've never met. It took the blood donations of around seven hundred people to get Karen and Chris Carmichael's new son Campbell, here safely. And donations from around eight hundred strangers to get Jessica and Campbell Clifton's new daughter Ruby through her birth . Both mums were diagnosed with a potentially life threatening disorder, months into their pregnancies.

"Neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia is a rare condition where the mother develops anti bodies usually to their babies blood" Specialist obstetrician Dr Craig Pennell says the condition, known as NAIT means the mother's system recognises the baby's platelets as foreign, and attacks. "Platelets are the cells that are involved in making clots and if you develop anti bodies to those platelets, the platelet count plummets and when that happens in utero, it causes the baby to spontaeously bleed, most severely into their brains, which can either cause them to die or cause profound brain injury"

So rare, there's no screening test. Complications at birth can be the first many parents know there's anything wrong. "Most of the woman are not diagnosed till they have a first affected pregnancy, so many of the women in fact lose their first pregnancy"

For Jessica and Campbell, while their first pregnancy with daughter Olivia was fine, their second pregnancy ended in disaster. Jessica says "we were having a little boy and his name was Sydney, we unfortunately lost him at 35 weeks to the condition of NAIT" You'd never know it now, but when Karen and Chris' daughter India was born, she was dangerously ill. Terribly bruised, and her platelet count was plummetting. Karen says "she kept developing little pin prick bruises around her and Chris really pushed for the doctors to do some tests"

They ruled out haemophilia, even leukemia, but diagnosed India with NAIT. She was treated with platelet transfusions and given antibodies and is now perfectly healthy. But doctors couldn't offer her parents any guarantees for subsequent pregnancies.Karen says "we were told not to have any more children" But now, thanks to the blood donations of people like Mount Lawley grandfather Barry Cross, there is a treatment for NAIT.

"We collect vast amounts of plasma" Red Cross Blood bank specialist Dr Lynn Aston says it takes many donations to get enough antibodies to make just one dose. "Currently, the best way is to use this anti body, normal human antibody collected from normal blood donors during the pregnancy and this protects the baby till after birth" For Karen and Jessica, having a treatment available, meant they now had hope. Karen says "it wasn't until i'd gone back to my obstetrician and he referred me to Craig Pennell, the high risk obstetrician and craig said I can treat you, if you want to have any more babies, I can help"

Jessica says "its a very daunting decision to actually go ahead with another pregnancy but knowing that previous people had had a success, that was definitely a positive for us" And this, proof, they made the right decision..the proud parents happily showing off the newest members of their families at the Blood Bank. "Lynn how does it feel knowing because of your work these families have these babies, well I'm glad theyr'e here for the donors to see"

These families are now complete, thanks to those donors. The treatment cost around two hundred thousand dollars for each pregnancy, a cost bourne by the Red Cross. But it's the liquid gold in donors' veins that was the real gift. These grateful parents say giving blood could be the best thing you give this Christmas. Karen says "we wouldn't have had healthy babies without people donating"

"Australia needs 26,000 donations a week to help people including those with cancer and newborn babies.

With many regular donors away over the festive season and fewer collection days, blood donations from all blood types are vital this time of year.

The need for blood never takes a holiday, so by giving blood this Christmas and New Year you can really make a difference.

Do something special. Give blood. Call 13 14 95 or visit www. donateblood.com.au