Humanity First!

Saving a life is like saving the humanity as a whole! Hence, any service even to the size of a mustard seed given to a needy may makes us better than the one who has accumulated so much wealth for nothing!

A Bombay Blood Donation Experience!

Source: D. Balasubramanian

Donating blood to the needy is a noble act of saving lives. Most of us are ready to do so. But the doctor first ensures the type of blood we carry, since our blood comes in various physiological types or groups. The general types are A, B, AB and O. Matching of the blood types of the donor and the recipient is vital, else it could lead to serious life-threatening complications.

It is in this connection that a heart-warming piece of news was reported about two weeks ago regarding a life-saving instance of blood donation. An infant, Sandesh Kumar from Gorakhpur, U.P., was found to have an inborn heart condition that needed surgery to set it right. This required blood donation. But the youngster has a very rare blood type. His blood is not O, A, B, or AB, but a special type called (hh)- a rare one first discovered in Bombay in 1952, and hence christened as Bombay Blood. People who carry this rare blood type, about 1 in 10, 000 Indians, can accept blood only from another Bombay Blood type individual, and not from anyone who is O, A, B or AB type.

Fortunately for baby Kumar, this problem was posted on the internet by an acquaintance of the family, and out volunteered as many as 10 individuals. The NGO called The Think Foundation, whom they got in touch with, asked donors to come forward and donate their blood in a donation centre in Mumbai. Three of them, Mr Prabodh Yatnalkar of Pune, and Alec Fernandez and Mehul Bhelekar from Mumbai came forward and donated their Bombay Blood. The blood was air-flown to Delhi where Kumar’s father received it and Kumar was treated.

Why is it called Bombay Blood, and how was it discovered? Dr Durgadas Kasbekar of CDFD Hyderabad has written a detailed and lucid article about it in the forthcoming issue of the journal Indian Journal of History of Science, and I give a short summary of it here. It was in 1952 that Drs. Y.M. Bhende, C.K. Deshpande and H.M. Bhatia of the Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College, Mumbai published a note in The Lancet (pp. 903-4, May 3, 1952) about two patients (X, a railway worker and Y, a stab wound victim) who needed blood transfusion. None of the blood types known until then worked for them. The moment their blood samples were mixed with any of the above types, the blood coagulated or clumped up. The doctor trio tried the blood of over 160 donors and found at last that one from Mr. Z, a resident of Bombay, suited the type of both patients X and Y. This donor blood type was then named by Dr. Bhende and others as the ‘Bombay Blood Type.’ Technically it is now termed the (hh) type of blood.

What is the biology behind this exceptional blood type? To understand this, let us first look at what each blood group type contains. Blood contains red blood cells (and other cells that are not relevant for us here, floating in a fluid called plasma. Red blood cells carry on their surface a set of markers with which the plasma interacts. This compatibility or cross-talk between the cell and the plasma is what makes each blood type special. The markers on the cell are determined by a master type called H, out of which are generated types A, B, AB and AO. When blood transfusion occurs, the compatibility between the donor blood cell type and the plasma of the recipient becomes vital, else the blood may coagulate or clump up, causing serious danger. Thus people with A type blood can accept blood from A type or O type and not from AB or B type donors. And they can donate, in turn, to those with A or AB types. Those with B type can receive from B or O types, and can donate to those with B or AB types. Those with AB type blood can receive from any one and donate to other AB. Finally those with O type blood can receive only from O, but can donate their blood to A, B, O or AB- universal donors. In contrast, the Bombay doctors found that the hh type (Bombay type people) can accept only from other hh type, and also can receive only from the hh types. This makes the Bombay Blood types a very special and rare category of people.

How did this happen and why are these people so rare? It is largely because of extensive inbreeding within the same lineage or close-community marriages, often consanguineous, such that the ‘blood type’ or the gene pool is greatly restricted. Such intra-community marriages have happened in small isolated communities such as the gypsies, Russian Jewish or Parsi communities. It is thus likely that the Bombay Blood types have common ancestral origins. This special feature is occasionally dramatized in plays and movies, such as in the Telugu film Okkadunadu where the villain (antagonist) finds to his dismay that the hero (protagonist) was the one who donated his Bombay Blood to save him. And in the Hindi filmKahaani the villain was exposed since he needed Bombay Blood for transfusion.

Bombay has many reel life heroes, but to me, the heroes in real life are the Yatnalkars, Fernandezes and Bhalekars, who helped save young Kumar and such needy fellow-citizens, and the Think Foundation and their officer Vinay Shetty. They with their Big Bs (Bombay Blood) deserve our applause and best wishes for the New Year.

Abu Abdullah • March 20, 2016

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