In some cases, you may be able to choose an alternative to a blood transfusion for your child. Here are some choices to discuss with your child’s doctor.
- Autologous transfusion. A patient can donate his own blood, usually several weeks before surgery, which can then be used during or after the operation if it’s needed. Because the individual’s own blood is used, this technique significantly reduces the risk of getting a disease or having an allergic reaction to donated blood. However, autologous transfusions are not appropriate for children younger than 9 or 10 years. This type of transfusion also cannot be used in emergency situations because these donations need to be given in advance. Some medical conditions may make it impossible to use this option.
- Blood recycling. When blood is lost during surgery, it can be collected, cleaned, and then supplied back into the patient. Because only the patient’s own blood is used, there is no risk of transmitting diseases or causing allergic reactions. However, because this recycling approach needs advance planning, it cannot be used for emergency surgery, nor can it be used for certain medical conditions.
- Directed donation. If your child needs a transfusion, he may be able to receive the blood of parents, other family members, or other known donors. You may feel your child is safer using the blood of a relative or someone else familiar to you. Keep in mind, however, that this method does not eliminate the risk of disease transmission. Additionally, the donor must have the same or a compatible blood type. Your relatives and friends may have infections that they are unaware of or are uncomfortable discussing, yet they may feel pressured into donating because of the circumstances. Blood from the Red Cross has the benefit of coming from volunteer donors, many of whom are repeat donors, so their blood has been tested in the past and proven to be safe. Finally, some hospitals do not permit directed donations.
In certain cases, children may be candidates for using alternatives to human blood. Youngsters with hemophilia can be given a highly purified clotting factor that is made in the laboratory using recombinant DNA techniques. These manufactured factors are completely free of germs that can be spread to a transfusion recipient. Certain hormones or growth factors are also available that stimulate the body’s own production of red blood cells.