Updated: Aug 19
Blood transfusions, organ transplants and bone marrow transplants can be detrimental situations for any person who needs one. And it piqued our interest about the situation for those from diverse backgrounds. These medical procedures aren’t the most pleasant things to think about, but what special considerations are there for those of us who are of mixed and minority races?
First, we took a look at the vital fluid that courses through all of our bodies—blood. Depending on what specific part of the world we’re looking at, the percentages of blood types vary greatly. We learned facts about the Rh factor as well—or the positive or negative portion that’s sometimes noted with a simple + or – along with your blood type of A, B, AB or O.
What did we learn about blood types in the U.S.? We discovered that AB-negative at .6 percent of the population and B-negative at 1.5 percent are the rarest blood types in the U.S. by far. And not only are they rare, but Rh-negative blood types can only receive Rh-negative transfusions, unlike Rh-positive blood types who can receive Rh-negative or Rh-positive blood. Doesn’t seem quite fair, right?
According to the American Red Cross, AB-negative and B-negative blood types are rare for African American, Latin American and Asian American people, while A-negative type is another rare type for Asian Americans. Interestingly, O-positive is the most common blood type for African Americans at 47 percent, Latin Americans at 53 percent and Asian Americans at 37 percent of those populations. There are also blood types that are even more rare than these—such as an uncommon subtype that’s needed to treat sickle cell disease and other rare blood types that can run into issues during blood transfusions. If you see the types U-negative, Duffy-negative, RzRz, Rhnull, golden blood, JKnull, Diego b-negative or Drori b-negative, these are rare types in specific minority populations.
What actions can you take as a minority or mixed race person to help toward health equity? First, make sure to find out your blood type. Many people remember getting a blood type test when they were in elementary school, but this is less common in current times. You can find out after a donation of blood, or simple test kits can also be found at pharmacies or can be ordered online for a reasonable cost. The tests are quick and easy to complete. A simple pin prick of your finger, and then applying blood onto a testing card shows your results in a few minutes.
Don’t forget to donate blood if you qualify to donate, which is especially important if you have a rare blood type in the U.S. like AB-negative, B-negative and the other special rare types. Also O-negative blood is important as a universal donor that can be given to all blood types and Rh factors. Due to the fact that type O blood doesn’t have any antigens that would trigger an immune response, people of all blood types and Rh factors can receive O-negative blood. This is why O-negative blood donations are so important for local blood supplies.
Another action to take is to register as an organ donor when you receive your state identification or driver’s license. It’s a normal feeling to be unsure or to have mixed feelings about being an organ donor. It might be helpful to keep in mind that minority and mixed race patients have a harder time finding matches for vital organs like kidneys and hearts. Over half of the patients on the national waiting list for a life-saving transplant, at 58 percent, are patients from communities of color. Consider updating your status to becoming an organ donor or register on the Gift of Life Donor Program website. One of your organs could be used to save someone else’s beloved daughter, son, sister, brother, mother, father, wife, husband or friend.
Bone Marrow Transplants
And even though certain organ transplants are more difficult for mixed race people to find a match, bone marrow transplants are the most difficult of all to find. Many mixed race cancer patients have waited many years to find a match for a bone marrow transplant. There are websites dedicated specifically to registering potential mixed race donors for bone marrow transplants where you can be typed with a simple cheek swab. The website Mixed Marrow is free of cost for those who are ages 18 to 44. For those who are between the ages of 45 to 60, you can register for the cost of a $100 tax-deductible donation. Or sign up at the page on the City of Hope website where registration is free. And for those who really want to become active in recruiting potential donors for bone marrow transplants, you can sign up to host a bone marrow registration drive or join in fundraising efforts.
Blood transfusions, organ transplants and bone marrow transplants aren’t always as simple for those from mixed and minority ethnic backgrounds. But there are actions that can be taken to make the path forward to those medical procedures more quick and easy for those from diverse populations. Many people are very busy in their lives, but try to add one of these actions to your to do list. Your initiative to take action has the potential to save someone else’s life in the future.