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Florida woman needs rare blood to save her life. Now people across the country are donating

Annie Blanks
Pensacola News Journal
Ramona Speer needs an extremely rare type of blood in order to have life-saving surgery.

PENSACOLA, Fla. – A Florida real estate agent who needs a life-saving surgery is reaching out to the country to donate blood, in the hopes that someone might be a match for her extremely rare blood type. 

Ramona Speer has lived in Navarre for 20 years and is a real estate agent with ERA American Real Estate. About a week and a half ago, on the one-year anniversary of her husband Charles' death, Speer received a life-threatening medical diagnosis.

She told the Pensacola News Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, she is not yet comfortable publicly sharing her diagnosis as she is still coming to terms with it and wants to share with her clients and close friends privately first.

But the day before Speer was to be admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital for surgery, doctors delivered devastating news: They needed to postpone surgery until they could find at least eight pints of O-negative blood that is also negative for the KPB antigen, which is one of the rarest blood types in the world. 

"I understand that just 4 to 7% of the population has O-negative blood," Speer said. "But the problem with that is that of O-negative, only 2% test negative to the KPB antigen."  

Speer immediately told her friends and family, who sprang into action. Co-worker Kim Stuckie began spreading the word on social media, writing posts, sharing videos and making contact with everyone she could. 

"I just started telling basically every person I could think of, and it really snowballed," said Stuckie, the real estate agency's marketing manager. "I mean, it really, really grew. I've heard of people donating in New Jersey and Arizona, and a friend of mine in Washington gave blood, too."

So far, the plan has worked: There have been three matches and donations made since Stuckie and her friends started getting the word out. Speer was able to donate one pint of her own blood, bringing her total number of pints to four. As of Friday, Speer still needed four more pints.

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But Speer is hopeful and encourages people to donate blood and get tested for the antigen.

"The support has been wonderful, the community and my company have been wonderful," she said. "Some blood banks have even said they've been so overwhelmed with donors they haven't had the staff to handle all of it." 

Susan Forbes, senior vice president of corporate communications and public relations for OneBlood, said donations at OneBlood centers in Escambia and Okaloosa counties have surged in the last week. 

"Donors are showing up at our donor centers in the Panhandle wanting to donate for her," Forbes said. "Our team is aware of that, and as the donors come in, we specifically tag those units to be sent to our reference lab for compatibility testing." 

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Donations for Speer need to be not only O-negative and negative for the KPB antigen but also from someone who is of European descent and has birth parents that are 100% of European descent. 

However, even if the donated blood is not an exact match for Speer, it could still save a life. 

"You may not be able to help Ramona, but you'll help somebody," Stuckie said, encouring people to donate. "We sort of feel like, even if people are not a match, they still will have given blood that can save somebody's life, somewhere." 

Forbes said Speer's case is shining a light on the need for a more diversified blood supply. The American Rare Blood Bank is an organization that connects rare blood donors with those in need all over the world, and OneBlood has been working closely with the organization to identify people whose blood type might match Speer's. 

"We live in a diverse nation, and we need the donor pool to match the patient population," Forbes said. "You don't want to have to wait for a situation like this to occur. The more people that make this a habit and the more people that get their blood tested, the better opportunity there is to have more matches for people in need."