O-positive blood donors helped this newborn survive

Cleo Maxwell received a blood transfusion hours after birth which helped her survive massive blood loss

August 18, 2022
Two children pose with their baby sister

Cleo Maxwell, centre, with her siblings Jasmine, left, and Rowan, right, received a lifesaving blood transfusion from an O-positive blood donor when she was a newborn following a massive fetomaternal hemorrhage. Her family is grateful every day that an anonymous donor gave her this gift of life.

While Anita Maxwell was pregnant with her third child, Cleo, everything was going smoothly. There was no indication her daughter would have an emergency need for blood hours after entering the world.  

“When she was born, she was very pale, almost ghost-like, and you couldn’t hear her crying,” recalls Anita. “After the medical team did some bloodwork, they realized that she had lost a lot of her blood.”  

The mother and daughter had experienced a massive fetomaternal hemorrhage, where a large portion of Cleo’s blood had been transferred to her mother. It can be common for small amounts of a baby’s blood to enter the birth parent’s blood circulation before or during birth. But for Cleo, it was much more serious.  

According to their medical team, 200ml of Cleo’s blood had transferred to her mother, Anita. For newborn Cleo, who weighed 7 lbs 14 oz at birth, this represented more than half of her blood volume. She needed a blood transfusion — fast.  

Less than three hours after being born, Cleo had an emergency transfusion where she received blood from an O-positive donor that saved her life.  

“There are some babies that lose 60ml of blood through fetomaternal hemorrhage and don’t make it,” says Anita. “Bad things can happen so suddenly, and you don’t always see them coming. But because of swift action from her medical team and a blood transfusion from an amazing, anonymous donor, Cleo’s able to live her life now and I am eternally grateful.” 

newborn in hospital receiving o-positive blood transfusion

Less than three hours after being born, Cleo’s medical team determined her blood type and she received O-positive blood during an emergency transfusion that saved her life.

The right blood transfusion at the right time can save a life. 

Our immune systems are designed to know what belongs in our body and what doesn’t. If a patient gets the wrong blood type, things can go very wrong. That’s why there are very specific ways in which blood types must be matched for a safe transfusion. 

In Cleo’s case, her medical team was able to quickly learn her blood type was A-positive. As someone with a positive Rh blood type, Cleo was eligible to receive blood from an O-positive donor. O-positive red blood cells can be used to treat any patient with a positive Rh blood type, which makes a measurable difference in emergency situations.  

Because more than two thirds of Canada’s population have blood types that are compatible with and can receive O-positive blood, it is important to keep an adequate supply. In fact, when our national inventory for O blood types is below eight days, it is especially needed.  

What’s more, blood units for newborn babies are often part of a special inventory that is divided into ‘mini bags’ because they require far less blood than an adult. It can be common for O blood types to be reserved for this purpose in newborn patient groups. Between O-positive and O-negative blood types, all babies can be helped.  

But Canada needs many more donors, new and returning, to be able to meet patient needs now and into the future. The number of people who donate regularly has decreased by 31,000 during the pandemic, resulting in the smallest donor base in a decade. Over 100,000 new donors are needed in Canada this year to keep up with demand.  

Thanks to blood donors and her health team, Cleo made a remarkable recovery. After receiving medical care in the NICU for 10 days, Cleo went home where she finally met her now beloved siblings. On July 29, 2022, the family marked one year since her homecoming, something they intend to celebrate annually by giving back or donating to Canada’s Lifeline in some way to honour the gift of life Cleo received.  

“Now Cleo is walking, talking and copying her siblings just like any other toddler,” says Anita. “She is thriving. You would never even know she had such a rough start at birth.”

blood recipient, Cleo Maxwell on her first birthday

Cleo’s family celebrated her first birthday in July 2022 under the theme ‘one in a melon’. In addition to her birthday, her family also celebrates 10 days after her birth date — which was the day she came home from the hospital following her lifesaving transfusion and recovery.

A ‘humbling’ experience for this former donor and mother 

Today, seeing the strong and caring bond between Cleo and her siblings, Jasmine and Rowan, is one of Anita and her husband Josh’s greatest joys. Anita hopes they’ll remain “built-in best buds” for a long time to come. 

Reflecting on sibling bonds reminds Anita of how she first became involved with Canadian Blood Services after her older brother invited her to join him in donating blood when she turned 17. From there, she encouraged friends to join her, and they made donating a social event (and a snacking event, never missing a chance for a post-donation Cookies by George at the Edmonton donor centre!).  

“When you’re young and blessed with good health, you don’t think about what it’s like to be on the other side,” Anita says.  

“Until I had Cleo a year ago, I’d never met a blood recipient before. As a donor, you know you’re helping, but you don’t really know who’s receiving it. But now, it’s a humbling experience. Because of someone else’s choice to be a donor, my baby’s life was saved.” 

The need for blood donors is constant. To ensure we can continue to meet the needs of patients in Canada, we need everyone who can to book and keep their blood and plasma donation appointment in the weeks and months ahead. Find a donor centre or event near you and book an appointment today.

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