Blood for preemies

The Allen family

Photo By David Robert

It takes a special person—literally—to donate blood that can be used for kids like Garrett Allen, age 4. Not many Reno residents qualify. For starters, you have to be willing to give blood at United Blood Services. You have to have a rare blood type, O-negative, shared by 6 percent of the human race. And you have to not test positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV). About 95 percent of the population carries this virus that’s easily suppressed by most adult immune systems. It’d be fatal, though, for a baby in need to receive CMV-positive blood. UBS in Reno estimates the need for about 12 units of baby blood a week in the Truckee Meadows. About 200 active donors contribute blood that is safe for babies and kids like Garrett, an active preschooler whose health depends on receiving monthly blood transfusions. UBS will be honoring its baby blood donors on Nov. 5. Telerecruiting supervisor Candy Nolte says UBS deeply appreciates these individuals.

“Without them, we’d be in serious trouble,” she says. To be tested to see if you have baby-safe blood, call UBS at 324-6454. Garrett’s parents, Fay and Jeff Allen, a Reno pharmacist, say the baby blood donors have saved their son’s life several times over. I recently spoke with Jeff, who’ll be thanking donors in person at the UBS event.

What’s Garrett’s medical history?

He’s had to have blood [transfusions] since he was born. He’s had diamond blackfan anemia since birth. This means his bone marrow doesn’t produce red blood cells, so he’s transfusion dependent.

Sounds like he’s had a rough time.

You know, you’d never know anything is different. He’s basically having a normal life except for that.

Has it been challenging?

The hard part was right at the beginning when we knew something was wrong and didn’t know what it was. The hardest part is the shock of finding out your son has something seriously wrong. The other part is that we have to go to Oakland once a month to see physicians there. [Garrett] gets transfusions in Reno, but the hematology specialist is in the Bay Area. We spend about three days a month [dealing with medical issues] and that’s when everything is going fine.

Does Garrett have brothers and sisters?

He has two brothers, Cole, 8, and Brett, 6. They’re very good to each other and to Garrett.

Does Garrett go to school?

No, we don’t put him in any kind of day care or school situation. He’s just a normal 4-year-old. We don’t know if we’ll start him in kindergarten next year or not. He’s right on the cusp [of being the right age to start school]. He waits for his brothers to come home from school and likes to do what they do. If they aren’t around, he plays with trucks and cars and digs out in the backyard.

How has UBS helped?

They’ve treated us very well. We have two donors who give baby blood for Garrett.

What would you like to say to the donors?

Boy, that’s pretty tough. We depend on them on a monthly basis. There’s a real deep gratitude and thanks. Garrett wouldn’t be alive now without them. I’d also like to thank the nurses and care at Saint Mary’s, our pediatrician Dr. H. Donald Clark and Kathy, his nurse. They’ve always been excellent.