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March 16, 2023
In the world of blood banking, Atianna Berryman is special. Her blood is so rare that it borders on being one of a kind.
Most people know of the eight main blood types (A+, A-, B+, B-, O+, O-, AB+ and AB-), but not all blood fits neatly under those eight categories. There are more than 600 other known antigens (the protein molecules found on the surface of red blood cells) that create what are known as rare blood types.
The presence of these antigens on a patient’s red cells is a determining factor in what type of blood they can receive. The introduction of a foreign antigen to a person’s blood stream can have fatal consequences, which is why it is important to provide matched blood to prevent the patient from having a reaction due to incompatibility.
A donor is considered a rare blood donor if their blood type is present in less than one in every 1,000 people, but Atianna’s blood is considerably more unique. She is negative for Hy and Jo(a), high-incidence antigens that are present in 100% of the non-black population and greater than 99% of the black population.
Atianna is one of only two donors in Kentucky Blood Center’s records who is negative for those antigens.
“It was really cool to get that letter (in 2022) and then find out what it meant,” Atianna said. “To know someone could really need my specific blood, I could cry. Blood is needed regularly for things like car accidents and traumas and all sorts of other things, but to know that there are so few people out there who could only take blood like mine meant a lot.”
With one in four people in need of a transfusion in their lifetime, even a rare blood group like Atianna’s will likely require help at some point. Collecting and supplying blood from the eight main blood types is hard enough, but when someone can only receive blood from so few, proactivity could be the difference between life and death.
Which is where rare donors like Atianna step up.
“Someone at some point will need that blood, and when they need it, it has to be available,” said Atianna, whose blood is frozen so it’s available long-term. “It’s not just here in Kentucky; it’s all over the world.”
Because of Atianna’s donations, and because KBC freezes them since her red cell units are so rare, they will be available if she ever needs them., but Atianna said that’s not why she donates.
“Not only can you help save a life, I think deep down it’s a feel good,” Atianna said. “We’re all so big on thinking of ourselves, but we need to take that out of our heads. You never know when it’s your time, when you’re going to need someone else. Anytime you can help someone, that’s beautiful. Don’t take that for granted.”
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