A story of Hope

Mother Christina Patau lies on a hospital bed, preparing for an ultrasound. Dr Annie Kroushev sits next to her in a chair, with an ultrasound monitor on display in the background.

For most women, pregnancy is hard enough without the added stress of complications. 

So when new mother Christina Patau discovered her body was attacking the red blood cells of her unborn baby, she knew she was in for a challenging journey. 

The soon-to-be-mother learnt the solution was a blood transfusion in the womb, but to further complicate her case, she discovered she had an extremely rare blood type which made sourcing the blood to do so almost impossible. 

“My whole family tried to donate, and they were all negative for a match – it was so heartbreaking, I thought they’d be able to help,” she said. 

The blood type, called JK3 Negative, was discovered at Christina’s seven-week check-up and caused a condition called isoimmunisation – triggering her body to produce antibodies that were entering the placenta and attacking the blood of her child in the womb. 

“The transfusion itself was also risky because it could have put me in early labour, it could have even harmed the baby or something as bad as death. 

“At the same time, I knew I needed to do it because it was that or do nothing, and if I did nothing she would still be harmed.” 

Baby Hope and mother Christina are doing well post-birth with weekly check-ins to monitor her condition.

Thankfully, after a big national push for JK3 Negative donors to come forward, Christina was able to give birth to Hope prematurely at 36 weeks in April with enough blood on hand for a safe delivery. 

“She ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 13 days and it was a pretty tough time having to leave her at the hospital,” she said. 

“She’s still getting weekly check-ups because my antibodies could still be inside her bloodstream for a while.” 

Monash Health Obstetrician Annie Kroushev helped Christina manage her condition through pregnancy and birth and said there were many risks associated with isoimmunisation. 

“Her body was recognising the baby’s cells as foreign, so by attacking the red blood cells of the baby this produced anaemia or a low blood count,” she said. 

“Left untreated over a long period of time, this can become quite life threatening especially for a premature baby.”

Dr Annie Kroushev helped manage Christina’s condition throughout her pregnancy to ensure both herself and baby Hope had the best outcome.

The rare blood type is most common in specific ethnicities including Polynesian, New Zealand Māori or Filipino persons.  

“This is an extremely rare blood type and most ethnicities will have some members in the community, maybe less than 1 in 100,000, but we know the in the Polynesian population about 1 per cent will have Christina’s rare blood type,” Dr Kroushev said. 

Christina said even though she and her baby had overcome this challenge, she still encouraged anyone who fits the above demographic to come forward and give blood. 

“I think it’s really important because I never thought this would happen to me, and I realised how rare it was and not enough people know about it,” she said. 

To learn more about blood donation, please visit www.lifeblood.com.au