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Background

Hyperhemolysis syndrome is a serious transfusion reaction mostly reported in association with sickle cell disease, characterized by destruction of both donor and host red blood cells (RBCs) by an unknown mechanism.

Case Report

A 21-year-old man with sickle cell disease and multiple prior transfusions received two phenotype-matched, compatible RBC units during a brief admission for pain crisis. He developed rapid-onset progressive anemia and hemoglobinuria. Methylprednisolone, erythropoietin, and rituximab were administered. Fifteen days posttransfusion the hemoglobin (Hb) concentration decreased to 3.1 g/dL, with evidence of severe congestive heart failure. No new antibodies were identified. It was felt that his heart failure would not improve without increasing oxygen-carrying capacity. A combination of volume overload, anemia, and hemolysis prompted a novel isovolemic procedure to increase Hb level without removing his own RBCs or causing fluid overload. A cell separator was used operating on the plasma-exchange program, with three cross-match–compatible, washed RBC units as the replacement fluid. After the procedure, there was no evidence of hemolysis. Over the following 6 days, the congestive heart failure resolved, the Hb concentration increased to 7.5 g/dL, and the patient fully recovered. He had a similar event 3 years previously.

Conclusions

Plasma-to-RBC replacement may be beneficial for selected patients with life-threatening anemia. This intervention provides immediate improvement in oxygen-carrying capacity, conserving the patient's own RBCs, while avoiding fluid overload. Although blood transfusion may precipitate further hemolysis, this case report describes successful plasma-to-RBC exchange transfusion with concurrent supportive care to offset hemolysis, including corticosteroid, intravenous immunoglobulin, and rituximab.