By Kristiene Gong, American Red Cross volunteer
Joy Vera has been a consistent blood donor for many years, and she takes pride in knowing that due to a rare quality, her blood donations can help a specific population of people.
“After my first donation, I was informed that I have CMV negative blood, which is rare in adults, and that it can be used to help newborn babies or those who are immunocompromised,” Joy shared. “That motivated me to continue donating, and I’m really proud to be able to help those who are most vulnerable.”
Having CMV negative blood means that Joy has never been exposed to Cytomegalovirus, a flu-like virus that most adults in the United States are exposed to at some point in their lives. CMV is generally harmless to adults, and most people infected with CMV have mild or no symptoms. However, it can be dangerous for those with weakened immune systems to come into contact with, and it can be fatal for newborn babies. This means that donors with CMV negative blood are part of a very special group: Heroes for Babies. Newborn babies receiving blood transfusions should only receive blood from donors like Joy who have not been exposed to CMV. The American Red Cross sends pediatric-specific blood products to hospitals throughout the United States each day.
A few years ago, Joy was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a lung disease that she is now managing with medication. When she was first diagnosed, Joy assumed that the medications would make her blood ineligible for donations. However, after calling the Red Cross, she was happy to discover that she could still donate.
“I wish I had called sooner, instead of just assuming my blood wasn’t needed,” said Joy. “I would tell anyone who is considering blood donation for the first time to just call like I did. The representative who answers your call will listen to your concerns and give you an answer - it’s so simple.”
Since CMV is so common among adults — the virus is present in up to 85 percent of adults by age 40 — only a small number of donors are eligible to meet this need. Regular testing is conducted on blood donations to check for eligible CMV negative blood donors. To learn more about how you can make a difference for the smallest patients in need, visit RedCrossBlood.org.