Thirty-year-old Vinay Kulkarni is one of only 179 registered Bombay blood group donors across the country; they drop everything when called to donate
Vinay Kulkarni donating blood
Civil engineer Vinay Kulkarni, 30, had just got back from a long day at work, last Thursday, and was getting ready for dinner, when he got a call that had him jumping out of his chair. It was a 50-year-old man sobbing into the phone, saying how much he loved his 70-year-old mother, desperately in need of blood. No, he was neither a friend nor relative. But, the caller's ailing mother had the rare Bombay blood group, the same as Kulkarni's. The Satara resident simply said, "I will reach there as soon as possible".
Kulkarni is one of the 179 people on record in the entire country with the Bombay blood group. The donors stay in touch with each other to help out in case of emergency.
A journey to Jharkhand
"When I got the call, I knew I had to leave immediately. I told my wife and daughter that I had to go to Jharkhand and booked a tatkal ticket on the Azad Hind Express for Friday evening," he said.
"I reached Tata Nagar on Sunday afternoon and took a bus to Ranchi. There, I met the Jharkhand coordinator for the OHH (Bombay) Rare Blood Group Association Atul Gera. He told me that the elderly woman was admitted in Rourkela's Ispat General Hospital, but because that place didn't have the facility to check blood, I would have to donate it at Rajendra Medical Institute.
"Whenever we [Bombay blood group donors] give blood, we only pray that we aren't late and that we can save the patient."
Kulkarni added, "After donating, I called up the man to tell him. I really wanted to meet his mother, but didn't have the time to go to Odisha."
"I don't remember how many times I have donated blood; I guess this was the seventh time. It all started five years ago, when my father was hospitalised in critical condition. I went to donate blood for him and was told that I have a rare blood group. At that time, I paid no attention to that bit of information, as my focus was on my father. A few days later, the association contacted me and explained to me the importance of my blood group," he said.
The close-knit community
Association founder Vikram Yadav said, "As far as I know, the health ministry has identified 179 people with this blood group in India. But, we have found 230-odd people so far through blood collection camps. There are more who don't even know what the blood group means."
"Because the number of donors is not enough, we have to plan the donation properly. We keep our WhatsApp status as the date on which we last donated blood, which makes it easy for others to keep a track," he added. "As you know, blood of the ill and addicts is not suitable for donation. Hence, all our donors are addiction-free and take very good care of themselves.
"We have over 15,000 donors with different blood groups. Our focus is on the Bombay blood group members. We need to identify more of them and widen the network."
When mid-day contacted Sanjay Lagun, the son of the ailing woman for whom Kulkarni donated blood, he said, "I am really grateful to him. My mother has 30 per cent burns that are very deep. She got burned on June 5 at our home in a village in West Singhbhum district. After admission, the doctors told us that she had a rare blood group, and that we would somehow have to get two units of that to save her. We managed that, but over time, the need increased and it was getting difficult for us. That's when this man [Kulkarni] came like an angel," he added.
The HH blood group, also known as the OH or Bombay blood group, is a rare blood type; its peculiarity is that it doesn’t express the H antigen. As a result, people with the blood group can’t form A or B antigens on their red blood cells. Thus, they can donate to anybody with ABO grouping but can receive only from a person who has the rare blood group. Dr Y M Bhende discovered it in 1952 in Bombay.
The association has a 24/7 helpline (9970018001). It also requests all those with O blood group to find out if the H antigen is absent in their blood, thereby making them a Bombay blood group member.
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