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GHS Med Trans capable for in-flight blood transfusions

STAFF REPORTS
Published on Monday, November 28, 2011

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Two units of O-negative blood are carried on each GHS Med Trans flight in a special cooler that maintains the blood between 1 and 6 degrees Celsius.

Two units of O-negative blood are carried on each GHS Med Trans flight in a special cooler that maintains the blood between 1 and 6 degrees Celsius.

The Greenville Hospital System Med Trans began carrying blood onboard its hospital-based helicopter this month, making it the upstate’s only medical helicopter to provide pre-hospital blood transfusions.

“This is a huge leap forward in emergency care. It has the potential to save a lot of lives,” said Dr. Marty Lutz, an emergency physician at GHS University Medical Center and medical control physician. Lutz is over the GHS Med Trans, GHS Mobile Care and Greenville County EMS. 

Pre-hospital transfusions have been used to help out-of-county trauma patients injured by gunshots or traffic accidents. But Lutz said it could also be a lifesaver for patients with medical illnesses that carry risk of life-threatening bleeding such as aortic tears or from gastrointestinal causes.

“In the past, there was nothing we could do other than stop the bleeding and get trauma patients to the operating room fast,” said Med-Trans flight nurse and paramedic Harley Chapman. “It was terribly frustrating when you knew blood would help, and you just didn’t have it. Now we can buy a little time for them until they can get to surgery.”

It’s not unusual for extreme trauma cases to lose 30 percent of their blood, and having quick access to blood may be the only thing that can save their lives. Administering blood during transport can be critical for avoiding complications from shock, and studies show that critically ill patients respond better to in-hospital treatment if they’ve had access to early transfusions.

Work on the initiative began soon after GHS and Med-Trans Corp. joined forces last November to base a dedicated helicopter and flight crew at GHS’ flagship hospital Greenville Memorial Hospital. 

“Blood is an important medicine, but it must be carefully administered and stored. If you give it incorrectly, you could cause serious harm to the patients you are trying to help,” said Lutz. “Approving this new protocol was a slow, meticulous process.” 

Under the new system, two units of O-negative blood are carried on each flight in a special cooler that maintains the blood between 1 and 6 degrees Celsius, the temperature standard set by the American Association of Blood Banks. An alarm will sound before the blood goes out of the acceptable range, and, as an added precaution, the blood also carries an indicator tag to show if it has fallen out of range. The blood supply is replaced every 12 hours. 

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