Student Discovers Rare Blood Type

When NMU student Pete Pelletier started a practicum at the Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, to complete his associate degree as a clinical laboratory technician, he didn’t know the experience would greatly enhance his resume. While doing routine blood tests, Pelletier detected a rare antibody in a woman’s blood that potentially saved the patient’s life.


“It is a very complex problem to solve when encountered, and it is so hard to find compatible blood, the patient could die before it would be available,” said Wayne Price (Clinical Laboratory Sciences), Pelletier’s adviser.


Pelletier was testing an anemic woman’s blood to find a donor for her transfusion and obtained abnormal results.


“Really, we were thinking that I had done something incorrect in my testing, but I continued to do the work-up for more learning experience,” Pelletier said. “What I found next confirmed that my work-up was probably accurate and that we were dealing with a very rare Rh blood type.”


Since this occurrence was so rare, Pelletier sent the blood sample to the American Red Cross (ARC) and they forwarded it to the National Reference Lab and Rare Donor Center. The ARC listed the chance of finding a compatible unit of blood as less than 1 in 10,000, Pelletier said.


“For the patient and her family it is an extremely big deal if they need a transfusion of red cells or if she becomes pregnant,” Price said.


Pelletier’s persistence led him to do more research on the topic and write a paper. He was thrilled when given the opportunity to present his paper at the Wisconsin Association of Blood Banks Annual Education Seminar in Milwaukee, Wis.


“Having the opportunity to give my first paper presentation as an undergraduate student in front of such an audience was an unbelievable experience,” Pelletier said.


Pelletier said his discovery of the unusual Rh-factor was both exciting and nerve-racking, especially because many technicians who work in the field of transfusion medicine have never had the chance to see a similar case.


“Many of the people who I talked with at the Wisconsin Association of Blood Banks commented on how lucky I was to have such an experience and how they would love to come across something like it,” he said.

Pelletier attributes his confidence in his studies to the amount of research he did in the field and to the education he has received at NMU.


“I have to give a great deal of credit to our CLS program here at NMU,” he said. “The program has given me the best clinical lab education that I feel I can get.”


Price is proud of his advisee and said he feels blessed to have an exceptional student like Pelletier in the program.


“Pete was willing, as a junior, to do something many professionals in the field would hesitate to do: delve deeper into the problem, understand the underlying principles and then face an audience of professionals in the field with his findings and explain it to them,” he said.


Pelletier hopes to attend medical school after he graduates from Northern.



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Updated: October 21, 2004