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Those with rare ‘panda blood’ unite to help

 “HOW much blood do you need?” Wang Yong asked on his mobile phone, while handing a bottle of water to his customer.

When his phone rang, the 35-year-old switched roles from a snack vendor in a Beijing park to the leader of an alliance known as “panda blood.”

“Panda blood” refers to the Rh-negative blood type in China, which, as the phrase suggests, is “as rare as pandas.” Only three out of 1,000 people in China carry the negative Rh blood factor. If multiplied by the total 1.3 billion population, the number is not so small, almost 4 million people.

A news report Wang saw on the rare blood type in 2002 led him to his dual roles as snack peddler and heroic middleman for those in need of rare blood.

The report examined a taxi driver who was diagnosed with leukemia. When doctors tried to give him a blood transfusion, they found his Rh-negative type was incompatible with other blood types. In despair, the driver told a reporter that he would give up and go back home to wait for his final moment.

Seeing the report, Wang felt deep sadness. “With such a large population in China, why can’t we find another person whose blood may save him?” he asked.

The report prompted him to head online and post under the nickname Xiaolong, calling for people of Rh-negative blood type to form an alliance, so as to help each other. Now his alliance has about 30,000 members, who have saved the lives of more than 3,000 people.

Hope

It is not easy to tell how many such alliances exist in China, as they were often founded by ordinary people like Wang. But their presence means hope.

On September 28, Shanghai witnessed a “blood relay.” The patient was a Spanish businessman named Ramon, whose family didn’t want the full name reported. Ramon terminally ill with esophagus cancer and his blood type was A-negative.

His friend, Ms Xiao, said that they pinned hope on a blood transfusion that could prolong his life so that Ramon would at least be able to see his sister before he died. They posted their request online.

A girl nicknamed Taro saw the request.

“I was touched by the man’s story,” she said. “Ramon has lived in China for 18 years. After the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, he donated 150,000 yuan (US$25,000). In comparison, what I could do was really no big deal.”

After the donation, Ramon’s family offered her money to express their gratitude, which was rejected by Taro. “I just wanted to help,” she said.

The Shanghai Rare Blood Alliance was established in 2007 by a former salesman, Xie Yingfeng, who came from northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The 35-year-old found out his Rh-negative blood type during a premarital physical check-up. “I suddenly felt a sense of loneliness and wanted to find people with the same kind after hearing the news,” he said.

Now more than 300 volunteers, including Taro, have joined Xie’s alliance. With a sense of mission, the alliance saved more than 30 patients in Shanghai last year.

But not every rescue is a success. One day in 2012, Xie received a call from a sobbing young mother. Her 6-year-old child with Rh-negative blood was critically ill and in dire need of blood. But the hospital did not have enough in storage. Xie immediately contacted volunteers nearby, but when they arrived, the child had already died.

“The child is the same age as my son,” Xie said. “The failed rescue is a heavy blow to me.”

While many donors act courageously by offering their blood, the rarity has also lured blood peddlers looking to cash in on other’s dire medical needs.

“I heard that ‘panda blood’ is very expensive. On the black market, patients pay somewhere between 10,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan for 100 milliliters of such blood,” Xie said.

In order for more patients to receive their life-saving blood and protect well-intentioned volunteers, Xie usually contacts the family of a patient to ask for the patient’s name, age and where he or she is hospitalized. He then checks with the hospital to see if the story is true before providing help.

But this does not prevent them from being misunderstood.

Once a volunteer from Wang Yong’s alliance flew to Sichuan to provide blood for a pregnant woman. But the donation center refused to take his blood, accusing the volunteer of being an illegal blood dealer.

The soft-spoken Wang flew into a rage. “You take his blood first, and then call the police!” he shouted into the telephone. “I am waiting here.”

Dreams

There are also misunderstandings about what it means to have “panda blood.” There’s a story circulating online of a girl whose boyfriend, after discovering she had Rh-negative blood, broke up with her because his family doubted that she could give birth to a healthy baby.

Even some doctors are unsure about what “panda blood” is. Some hospitals reject pregnant Rh-negative women from delivering unless they prepare enough such blood by themselves.

The volunteers shared a dream that blood centers would no longer lack blood supply if information about individuals’ blood type could be stored on an identity card.

“In this way, nearly 4 million people will know they are Rh-negative blood type, and stand out to help each other when needed,” Xie said. “God makes us different, and we must shoulder the responsibility to be different.”

 


 

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