On 9th February 1945, medical history was made at Solihull when a newborn baby, Rosalind Shelley (1945-1990), was given a complete blood transfusion five minutes after her birth, which took place at Netherwood Maternity Ward, Solihull Hospital. This is believed to have been the first time in the world that the blood of a so-called “blue baby” was changed at birth.
Without the blood transfusion – described in the Evening Despatch 14th May 1945 as “a wonder operation” – the baby would almost certainly have died as a result of rhesus disease (also called haemolytic disease of the foetus and newborn (HDFN)).
The condition occurs as a result of a blood incompatibility – where the child is rhesus positive and the mother rhesus negative – meaning that the mother makes antibodies that destroy the baby’s red blood cells if they cross back into the placenta. This is now an uncommon disease, as preventative treatment is available but, in the 1940s, erythroblastosis foetalis, as it was known, was frequently fatal for the baby.
Rosalind’s parents, Harold Shelley (1913-1991) and his wife Marguerita (1911-1987) of Broom, near Alcester, had previously lost three babies at birth or soon afterwards. Dr Wilfred Gaisford (1902-1988), consulting paediatrician to Warwickshire County Council, was brought in to advise. As the condition was known to become more acute during the last few weeks of pregnancy, Dr Gaisford arranged for Mrs Shelley to be admitted to Solihull Hospital three weeks before her due date.
Consulting obstetrician, Mr W. E. Barnie-Adshead (1901-1951) performed a Caesarian section and Mrs Shelley was safely delivered of a baby daughter. A supply of compatible blood had been obtained from the Ministry of Health’s Regional Blood Bank in Birmingham and this was used to replace as much of the baby’s blood as possible within five minutes of her birth.
Within eight hours of her birth, baby Rosalind was already jaundiced. She continued to receive daily blood transfusions for just over a week until her own blood began to take control. She was discharged from hospital after three weeks and an assessment at six weeks showed she was progressing normally.
Rosalind became a hairdresser in Stratford-upon-Avon and, in 1967, agreed to participate in an advertising campaign to mark the 21st anniversary of the National Blood Transfusion Service. She married in 1970 and returned to Solihull Hospital the following year to give birth to her own daughter.
Rosalind died in 1990, aged 45.
If you have any further information about the family or the medical staff involved, please let us know.
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