Only one unit of blood in country for unique medical case solved by NHS ‘blood detectives’

7 May 2024

Lindsay Smith standing outside, smilingA mum needed an urgent blood transfusion but there was only one unit in the country which proved to be a match.

Lindsay Smith was treated thanks to urgent overnight work by NHSBT's 'blood detectives'. She is now supporting NHSBT's call for people to become blood donors.

The 43-year-old from Bootle in Liverpool, needed blood last New Years' Eve.

She has the autoimmune disorder lupus – her body is attacking itself and her symptoms include dangerously low red blood cell counts.

Lindsay said: "The lupus is starting to attack my blood now.

"I've had transfusions in the past and now made antibodies against some blood types, so it's harder to find blood for me. I've been told I am quite a unique case."

Lindsay became anaemic, putting her at risk of potentially serious heart and lung complications.

Her combination of blood groups made finding a match difficult:

  • Lindsay is O Negative, which we could only receive from 13% of donors.
  • She also needed blood which was negative for the blood type 'k' of the Kell blood group, but only 0.2% of people have this type.
  • She also has antibodies to 'C' of the Rh blood group system and antibody to 'Jka' of the Kidd blood group system. That meant she also needed the blood to be 'C' negative (about 68% of people) and 'Jka' negative (about 23% of people).

If Lindsay received blood that wasn't matched for all these groups, she would suffer a transfusion reaction which could result in nausea, pain, fever, low blood pressure, and potentially death.

Finding the right match

To track down a matching unit, NHS Blood and Transplant’s specialist Red Cell Immunohaematology (RCI) laboratories in Liverpool, Barnsley and London performed urgent complex testing on Lindsay's blood sample.

This confirmed one unit of blood was a match for all her extended blood groups, which was despatched overnight from London to Liverpool in an emergency 'blue light' delivery. That allowed Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The final testing was only completed while the unit was actually being transported.

I am so grateful to whoever donated the blood and to the scientists who found the match.

Lindsay said: "God knows what would have happened without the blood.

"I am so grateful to whoever donated the blood and to the scientists who found the match. They enabled me to go home for my 13-year-old daughter Chloe.

"And I can't really thank the staff who looked after me at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital enough, they were brilliant and couldn’t do more for me. The nurses at Aintree University Hospital were also amazing."

Lindsay has her blood levels checked once a week. She is able to work one day a week in a café in a community health centre. Lindsay is expected to need more transfusions in the future.

She added: "I want to thank everyone who donates blood and ask people to consider donating, I know it can be hard to find the right blood, so more donors are needed."

There are more than 350 blood types so NHS Blood and Transplant needs donors from all backgrounds.

Teamwork and dedication

Wisdom Musabaike, NHS Blood and Transplant's Assistant Director for Red Cell Immunohaematology, said: "There was only one unit of blood in the whole country that was suitable for Lindsay, and it took the teamwork and dedication of several of our Red Cell Immunohaematology teams across England to resolve this complex case.

"Staff members working on normal and late shift, and overnight, collaborated across different sites, amidst managing other hospital referrals. I thank everyone who used their 'blood detective' skills to find a match.

"I also thank whoever donated the unit of blood. Increasingly, our advances in DNA testing are giving us the ability to more personalise transfusions, so donor blood is given to the patient who is the best possible matched person. However to best do this we need more donors and varied donors. Giving blood feels great. In just one hour you can save up to three lives. Please register and book your first appointment today."

Lisa Bailey, Clinical Director for Blood Science at Liverpool Clinical Laboratories said: "We were delighted that our specialist services in Lindsay's home town could support in an urgent time of need. From the testing of Lindsay's blood to working with colleagues from across the country to find a match, we're proud of our involvement in ensuring Lindsay received the correct blood as soon as possible."

Register now and book an appointment through our website, on the GiveBloodNHS app or call 0300 123 23 23.