Doctor: Blood critical to saving lives but challenging to keep fully stocked at hospitals

March 8, 2013 4:52:47 PM PST
On Friday, ABC 13 held its annual spring blood drive benefiting the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center. During emergencies the blood you donate can help save a life, and the real thing is better than artificial blood that's been tested.

Blood is used in trauma surgery, elective surgeries and cancer treatments. For years, researchers have tried to develop a synthetic blood you could keep on the shelf.

"A lot of companies have done a lot of work over the years, the government has put a lot of work into this, there's been a lot of big trials. Unfortunately, none of them have really worked," said Dr. John Holcomb, UTHealth's chief trauma surgeon.

So it's back to the real low-tech thing -- blood -- to keep people alive. And it really does.

"Patients in bad motorcycle crashes, bad motor vehicle crashes, bad gunshot wounds -- some people have injuries to major vessels and it takes a lot of blood products, 50-100 units to help stop their bleeding," Dr. Holcomb said.

A year ago, they began giving blood on LifeFlight for the first time. That means taking coolers of blood on the helicopter. In the past year they've seen an improvement in the survival rate.

"On LifeFlight, we have blood products on the helicopter we had them there for 15 months. We've looked at that and it appears that patients who get blood products on LifeFlight are associated with improved survival," Dr. Holcomb said.

Another thing that's saving lives is a new version of the old-fashioned tourniquet. It was invented by a medic in the Delta Force and was used in the hospital this week to save a man who lost his entire volume of blood. He's alive today after getting 50 units of blood.

Stopping the bleeding and replacing the blood is what much of the trauma treatment is about. But another downside is that blood doesn't last. It goes bad after 42 days.

Dr. Holcomb is doing research to try to make blood products last longer.

"Patients die if you don't have enough blood products. That's why we need people to donate blood," he said.

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