The rare blood group: 45 members stick together

Menaka Rao, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, May 14, 2012

Alex Fernandes, 45, had been afraid of needles ever since he was a child. In the last fifteen years though, he has donated blood three times a year, as he is one of 45 people in the city who have the rare Bombay blood group (BBG).

During a blood donation camp at his church in Chembur in 1996, the doctors identified his blood group as BBG. Since then Fernandes, has been donating blood whenever a patient with the same group requires it.

“I fought my fear of needles. Since my blood group is rare, I cannot dither when someone is in need,” said Fernandes, who works as an administrator in a private company at Chembur. Last month, Fernandes, along with Lower Parel resident, Mahesh Ghag donated blood for a pregnant woman in Nashik at Mahatma Gandhi Seva Mandir Blood Bank, Bandra. The pregnant woman was among three patients who needed BBG blood last month.

While most people who wish to donate blood can do so at the nearest railway station, their office, a church or a social organisation, these people have to rush to any blood bank whenever the rare blood group is required.

“Unlike people from other groups, we advise people with BBG not to donate blood in various blood donation camps. Since blood has a definite shelf life of a month at the most, their blood, if donated, gets wasted,” said Dr Neelam Nijhara, secretary, Federation of Bombay Blood Banks.

“Of the 45 people identified as having BBG, about 16 regularly donate blood. Some are unable to because they are either weak or on medication,” said Vinay Shetty, co-founder, Think Foundation, a group that organises blood donation camps.

About eight months ago, Pranay Uperkar, 28 was detected as having BBG. “I thought someone was playing a prank on me when the doctor called,” said Uperkar who donated blood along with Mehul Bhelekar, 27 for a man undergoing surgery at JJ Hospital.

“I sometimes get blood tests for malaria and other diseases done if I feel ill. Since my group is so rare, I think I should be more careful,” said Bhelekar, who works as a draftsman in an architecture firm.

The group feels the need to stick to each other, as they could one day need blood themselves. “God forbid, if something happens to me, and I need blood, these people will help me out,” said Ghag.