Every couple of months Dr. Kyle Mack makes sure to donate blood, often stopping in before work. He’s a regular because as a hematologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, he's acutely aware of the need for donations, particularly for his patients with sickle cell disease.
“Patients who have sickle cell disease can have serious infections, they can develop strokes, they can develop really bad pneumonias, they can have problems with their spleen, so there are a variety of complications in sickle cell disease patients which require chronic transfusions,” Mack said.
When it comes to sickle cell, it’s more than just blood type that matters. There are other factors that play a role in making a transfusion more compatible for a recipient.
“For my sickle cell patients, who are largely of African descent, it just so happens that most people who donate blood are of Caucasian descent. And there are, besides the major blood group proteins, you have these minor antigens on the red cell membrane, which are more likely to be concordant in people of a similar ethnicity," Mack said.
It's the reason they go out into the community to recruit African Americans to donate blood, Mack said, and the reason he started the Blue Tag program with the Red Cross. Blue tag donations are also tested for the presence of sickle cell trait – that’s an added bonus for donors, as some adults don’t know they are carriers.
Through the program, blood donated by African American donors at a Red Cross blood drive in Chicago gets earmarked for a child with sickle cell disease at Lurie. After it's tagged, Mack can track the blood on his Red Cross app from donation site to the lab to storage.
Then one day, it all came full circle. He was taking care of a patient with hematology problems, including cell disease, and ordered blood for a patient who had a complication. After he received an alert from the app, he made the realization it was likely his own blood that went to his patient.
"I did a little bit of recon work to figure out his blood type and my blood type were the same. I believe it is likely that I ordered blood, my own blood, for a sickle cell patient,” Mack said.
Privacy standards make it impossible to know for sure, but the coincidence only boosted Mack’s devotion to increasing African American blood donations.
“I thought it was really cool, a unique story, a great way to emphasize that blood that is donated literally makes it back to a patient, and, in this case, it happened to be a patient whose care I was in charge of. It keeps me motivated to continue donating,” Mack said.
So far, Dr Mack has donated a gallon of blood.