Leading Edge / Spring 2003
New Solution for Blood Transfusions

Cell-free hemoglobin may be an option for patients otherwise opposed to transfusions


The successful transfusion of a cell-free blood product in the case of a 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness may offer a solution for patients opposed to blood transfusions on religious or personal grounds.

“This was the first successful use of a human cell-free hemoglobin solution in a pediatric patient to manage life-threatening anemia due to an autoimmune disease,” says Dr. Brian Kavanagh, professor of medicine at U of T and staff physician in critical care medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

The patient suffered from immune thrombocytopenia, a condition that attacks platelets in the blood. Platelets help blood clot; when platelet counts are very low, even minor injuries can become serious if a patient continues to bleed. Kavanagh and his colleagues treated the girl after she entered the hospital for a nosebleed that did not stop. Instead of a blood transfusion, they used a manufactured solution containing hemoglobin but no red blood cells. The solution had been used in adults but never for a child in this type of situation.

While more study needs to be done with pediatric patients, Kavanagh says this cell-free hemoglobin is a viable alternative for Jehovah’s Witnesses and others opposed to blood transfusions. Kavanagh and colleagues reported this case in a fall issue of the British Journal of Haematology.


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