Erythroblastosis Fetalis — The Discovery And Partial Elimination Of Rhesus Incompatibility — The Origins Of Exchange Transfusion In Australia

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Abstract

The first 2 exchange transfusions in Australia for Rhesus-induced erythroblastosis (hemolytic disease of the newbom) were conducted in the 9 mth period from December 1945 to August 1946. These pioneering endeavours in medical research were undertaken by 3 transfusionists who were, or had been, directors of the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service in Australia. Called “substitution transfusion” or “exsanguination transfusion” they were conducted prior to the international publication of the first case series of exchange transfusions for “Rhesus Disease”. The first successful exchange transfusion in Australia, and one of the first in the world, was performed by Dr George Kelsall at the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, in Perth. Dr Kelsall had monitored pregnancies with serum raised himself from blood from a Rhesus monkey in the Perth Zoo. The second exchange transfusion, and the first with volume-monitoring, was successfully undertaken in Brisbane by Dr Eric Shaw, pathologist and Director of the Queensland Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, and Dr Noel Gutteridge, a former Director and senior pathologist of Brisbane.

Dr Kelsall's pioneering transfusion in Perth was a direct nonanticoagulated transfusion which was undertaken within minutes of birth and was completed within 5 min. The first volume-controlled exchange transfusion, in which the input-discard volumes were matched, used a plastic tube obtained from the Telephone Branch of the Postmaster General's Department, and employed citrated blood. These heroic exchanges (heroic for the infants and families concerned as well as for the operators) form a significant milestone in the history of blood transfusion, serology and preventive medicine in Australia.

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