a_big_thank_you

Recipients

Ask Sasha Farand what colour she wants her nails painted and the answer comes in the form of a squeal: “Strawberries!”

It’s a special design that her mom Suzanne St. Onge does best—red nail polish with tiny white dots and green tops to look just like strawberries. It’s one of their favourite activities, and a great way to get an energetic five-year-old to sit still…one of the only ways, actually, even though her toes can’t stop wiggling.

It might be an understatement to say Sasha has an enthusiastic and energetic personality, but her mom believes it’s why her daughter is alive today.

“She’s a very, very strong-willed little girl and we say she had to be. Every step of the way she just kept overcoming what was thrown at her,” says Suzanne.
 
In fact there were challenges waiting for her before she was even conceived. After a previous pregnancy loss, Suzanne underwent testing that showed she was Kell negative and had a high level of the anti-Kell antibody. The baby Suzanne had lost had been Kell positive.

While babies are a blend of the genetic makeup of their biological parents, sometimes a pregnant mother’s body may not be compatible with that of her unborn child. If a Kell negative woman becomes pregnant with a baby that’s Kell positive, her antibodies react and attack the fetus’ red blood cells and hematopoietic stem cells, which are the body’s red blood cell makers in the bone marrow.

When Suzanne was 13 weeks pregnant, testing showed Sasha’s Kell status was positive. In order to survive, Sasha would need many blood and plasma donors to come to her rescue.

For the next 12 weeks, Suzanne was injected with a plasma product called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), which is made from human plasma. IVIG is essentially an array of antibodies from many donors. Medical practitioners believe when someone receives an IVIG injection, the large number of new antibodies overwhelm the patient’s immune system, lessening the damage that their own “fighter” antibody—in Suzanne’s case, the anti-Kell antibody—can do.

The rounds of IVIG worked and 25 weeks into the pregnancy, Sasha had grown big enough to start receiving intrauterine fetal blood transfusions to replenish the red blood cells she’d lost.

“A whole team of people surrounded me. They stuck a big needle through my belly into the umbilical cord where it meets the placenta to give Sasha a blood transfusion,” says Suzanne.

By the time Sasha had developed enough for labour to be induced, she’d received five intrauterine blood transfusions.
 
She was born on Jan. 24, 2008—just three and a half weeks shy of her due date.

The medical team gave Sasha two more rounds of IVIG to prevent any lingering anti-Kell antibodies in her system from attacking the new, healthy red blood cells her body was making on its own. At four weeks old and again at seven and a half weeks, Sasha received her last two blood transfusions to top up the volume of red blood cells once again in her growing body.

Today, hospitals and blood transfusions seem like a distant memory. Now Sasha’s strawberry toes are about to take another big step—starting kindergarten in the fall.

Suzanne shares her family’s story as often as she can to encourage more people to donate blood. She’s spoken at blood donor recognition events and earlier this year posted a special message on www.thankyourdonor.ca, Canadian Blood Services’ website for blood recipients who want to reach out and acknowledge the difference blood donors make. Suzanne was especially moved when a colleague, who is terrified of needles, donated blood for the first time in celebration of Sasha.

“For someone to overcome their fear of needles to donate blood is so meaningful and impactful. She’s here because of it,” says Suzanne.

 

Suzanne and Sasha say thank you to blood donors! (YouTube video)

Photography by Douglas Little

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