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Children needing special blood for heart surgeries say thank you to their donors

February 09, 2024

On Feb. 12 at 10:30 a.m., the families of critically ill children who needed heart surgeries will meet the volunteer blood donors whose unique blood type gave the children a fighting chance at survival. University Health Blood Donor Services identified the donors through a complex process they perfected after working with the most advanced whole blood program in the region and one of the first in the country.

The program gained traction in November 2021 when several pediatric heart surgeons approached Dr. Leslie Greebon, the head of University Health’s blood services program. Their pediatric patients, including infants, were prone to developing antibodies that caused complications when transfused with individual blood components like red blood cells or plasma. They knew University Health had minimized bleeding and improved the survival of trauma patients by helping develop the use of whole blood which contains all blood components, not just some. Could the blood donor team further refine whole blood so it would have fewer harmful antigens that could threaten a young child’s recovery?

Dr. John Daniels, chief of University Health Blood Donor Services and lab director for the UT Health San Antonio Clinical Laboratory, embraced the challenge. He and the blood donor team began identifying volunteers who had type O positive blood that did not contain the antigens that could lead to complications. Our blood services team then called upon these low-titer volunteers to donate blood when doctors had children who needed heart surgery. In 2023, 48 donors gave this special blood, sometimes with little notice, to aid the recovery of 21 children.

Dr. Aaron Abarbanell, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at University Health and UT Health San Antonio, said scientific study data is not yet available, but he has observed a marked decrease in a need for blood when the children had their heart surgeries.

“Our pediatric heart patients who receive the low titer whole blood appear to bleed less during surgery, and that’s better for their health in the long run,” he said.

At our Have a Heart Blood Donors appreciation event, Dr. Abarbanell and the families of his young patients will for the first time meet their generous blood donors. It’s a time to say thank you and to recognize the innovation and commitment of our passionate medical teams who have developed the only program of its kind in South Texas.


Recognition of Have a Heart Blood Donors and our blood services team. An opportunity for heart patients and their families to meet their blood donors.


  • Dr. Aaron Abarbanell, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery
  • Dr. Leslie Greebon, chief of University Health Transfusion Services
  • Heart patients and their families
  • Blood donors


10:30 a.m., Monday, Feb. 12


At the bottom of the staircase in the Women’s & Children’s Hospital at 4502 Medical Drive. Park in the new Visitors Garage accessed from Medical Drive. Take the interior walkway into the hospital. The staircase is across from the information desk. Vouchers will be provided for parking.

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