Not all blood is the same

In 1900, the Austrian chemist, botanist and medical researcher Karl Landsteiner realized that not all human blood is alike, that some people's blood contains substances that are toxic to other people's blood.

That began to solve the mystery of why some people who received blood transfusions were fine, while others became ill and often died.

Karl Landsteiner
Karl Landsteiner

Landsteiner subsequently discovered three of the four genetically determined blood groups or types, O, A and B. A couple of years later, Alfred von Decastello and Adriano Sturli, Landsteiner's colleagues in Vienna, identified a fourth blood group, AB. While about 30 blood types have been discovered, the original four essentially cover everyone.

In 1910, at the Heidelberg Institute for Experimental Cancer Research in Germany, Ludwig Hirszfeld and Emil von Dungern demonstrated that blood type is an inherited trait.

In the speech he made when he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his work, Landsteiner described the mystery blood presented, and how he and his fellow researchers unraveled its secrets.

In 1922, Landsteiner moved to the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in New York, where he discovered an extremely powerful blood antigen he called "the Rh factor."

Today, hospital personnel make sure they know a mother's blood type in case she needs a transfusion. She will also be tested for her Rh factor because it can pose a danger to her baby's well being.

Fascinated with blood

I'm embarking on a series of posts about blood. I can't help it. I'm fascinated with blood.

The final classic symptom of amniotic fluid embolism is disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). When I suffered an AFE during the birth of my younger daughter, I was nothing but classic.

Edward Cullen
Also fascinated by blood

I hemorrhaged to the point where all the blood ran out of my body three times over. I didn't die from this event because I received a total of 87 units of blood and blood products — whole blood, plasma, cryoprecipitate and extra clotting factor.

I am alive to tell our birth story because thoughtful strangers had donated their blood, a large stockpile of blood was five minutes away when I needed it, and because a whole raft of people had done the work over centuries to figure out how to make someone else's blood work in my body.

And, by 1997, the blood supply had been made safe again, after a horrific tainting with the HIV/AIDS virus.

The bill for my daughter's birth, including two surgeries (a Caesarean section and separate hysterectomy performed to stop the bleeding), a stint for the baby in the high-risk nursery, a night for me in the intensive-care unit and an additional four days in the hospital, was $100,000 all those years ago.

Blood accounted for $13,000, more than 10 percent of the total.

Blood was a major factor in giving our birth story a happy ending. Fascinating!