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Parents of 2-year-old with cancer who needs rare blood plead for donors

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By Phil Helsel

The parents of a 2-year-old girl with cancer who needs an extremely rare form of blood are pleading for people around the world to donate in the hopes that it gives little Zainab a chance at life.

“They have a few units in stock but that is not enough; that is nowhere near enough,” the girl’s father, Raheel Mughal, said in an interview Thursday, adding that she will need transfusions with treatment.

Zainab is battling neuroblastoma and her blood is missing a common antigen, called Indian B. If Zainab receives blood with this antigen, her body will reject it.

Blood missing the antigen is so rare that only 4 percent of people being targeted in the search — those of Pakistani, Indian or Iranian descent — have it, according to Frieda Bright, immunohematology reference laboratory manager at OneBlood, the Florida-based non-profit that launched a worldwide search.

There’s not that much information about it because it’s so rare, Bright said.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and this is the first time I’ve ever encountered this antibody,” she said.

george h w bush funeral service getting underway - Parents of 2-year-old with cancer who needs rare blood plead for donors
2-year-old Zainab Mughal, a south Florida child battling cancer, is in need of extremely rare blood.Courtesy One Blood

The donors must also be blood type “O” or “A.” Zainab will need transfusions of the rare type of blood for the foreseeable future, according to OneBlood.

Zainab was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, a few months ago, but her parents believe the tumor was growing in her stomach for around 10 months before the diagnosis. The girl’s parents noticed she was eating less, getting fevers and wouldn’t play with other children.

“It was heartbreaking. It was devastating,” Mughal said when they found out she was sick. Mughal and his wife, Mariam Mehmood, were both immediately tested after the diagnosis was made, but neither was a match.

“We almost felt like, you know what, this is like the end of the world to us,” Mughal said.

In an effort to find donors, OneBlood is working with the American Rare Donor Program, a cooperative of the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks that operates a database of more than 80,000 rare donors in the U.S. A person’s blood is considered rare if one in 1,000 or more individuals lack the same antigen.

OneBlood said this week that 1,000 donors have been tested since September, and only three matching donors have been found. Two are from the United States, and one is from the United Kingdom.

Bright said that ideally they’d like to have seven to 10 identified donors that they knew would be compatible with Zainab, because they know that she will need transfusions in the future.

While Bright said there’s been a great outpouring of support, so far no new compatible donors have been found. Blood from people who match the ethnic groups being sought are tagged and sent for testing.

“We just, you know, can say, ‘Please help,'” Mehmood said. “… She’s my life, she’s my everything. She’s my only child.”


Here’s how to donate:

If you live within OneBlood’s service area, enter your zip code on this page to find your donation center. When you go to the OneBlood center, be sure to specify to staff that you’re there to donate for Zainab so they can mark your donation for testing.

If you don’t live within OneBlood’s service area, you can contact them to coordinate a donation on this page.

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