Blood Makes Noise

I recently heard US Army Major (and emergency medicine physician) report on his research, conducted in a major trauma center in Iraq. To give some context to his investigations on Factor VII and clotting, he mentioned a number of incredible statistics about the volume his hospital sees, the throughput his ER achieves, and even the turnaround time for lab results.

But one thing he said really stayed with me: all the hospital personnel have their blood typed and crossmatched. When a wounded soldier or Iraqi civilian requires a massive transfusion in the OR, they'll summon someone with the right blood and just hook them up to the patient, in the OR. He said, "There's nothing like transfusing warm, fresh whole blood to a patient -- it's like a magic bullet. Too bad we could never do that in the States."

(Another Iraqi hospital, one not run by the US Army, has apparently adopted different techniques).

But more data is accumulating on the inadequacy of current blood products practices. We already knew banked blood has poorer oxygen carrying capacity and is immunosuppressive (at best). Now, the NEJM just published a paper from Koch et al that demonstrated more post-operative complications from older blood transfusions. Cardiac surgery patients were significantly more likely to stay intubated, to have their kidneys fail, to develop sepsis, and to die -- when they were transfused packed red cells that had been stored more than two weeks.

Blood transfusion has come a long way and the practice of whole-blood transfusion has fallen out of favor, at least among US civilian institutions. But military studies have shown, at least, non-inferiority of the practice fresh whole blood transfusions, compared to frozen blood products (and patients requiring FWB required more blood, which is typically associated with worse outcomes). And others are looking at ways to mitigate the risk of infection.

It will be interesting to see this military practice finds some applicability in stateside trauma centers, and if the pendulum swings back towards whole blood transfusion in certain cases. If reviews bear out the benefit of fresh whole blood, hospitals should set up some kind of system where volunteer employees can be summoned to the OR to donate. It somehow seems more immediate and personal than current blood donation and banking. And when you consider all the expensive, marginal interventions we use in emergency medicine, it's nice to think we're sitting on something that could make a dramatic difference for a critically ill patient.