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Bloodless Surgery

Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence makes it possible to have surgery without blood transfusion

jeff sterner

Surgery is never something that people look forward to having. Then when your beliefs conflict with standard practice, it takes your stress about surgery to a whole new level. That’s where Jeffrey Sterner of Tamaqua, Pa., found himself. Sterner has coronary artery disease (CAD), and already had four minimally invasive procedures to improve circulation to his heart. But his cardiologist told him, “It’s time for us to do this right.”

“I knew what he meant when he said that. He wanted me to have bypass surgery,” Sterner says. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery was a procedure Sterner hoped to avoid, not only because it’s a major surgery, but because of his beliefs. 

“I didn’t want a blood transfusion, because blood is sacred and I respect life,” Sterner says. “Come what may, I didn’t want a blood transfusion, but I didn’t want to die.” 

Sterner’s cardiologist reached out to cardiothoracic surgeon, James Wu, MD, with LVPG Cardiology and Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence. Wu partnered with the newly-formed Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) Patient Blood Management Program to provide Sterner lifesaving treatment that honored his beliefs.

A belief in personalized care

Whether someone is motivated by religious beliefs or personal preferences, Patient Blood Management Program provides guidance. “We work directly with patients who wish to minimize or completely avoid the use of transfused blood during a procedure, and we work with their care team to develop a personalized plan,” says Kelly Frinzi, Patient Liaison with LVHN Patient Blood Management. 

“It’s very personal to me. I never want anyone to feel alone,” Frinzi says. She reached out to Sterner to introduce herself and that’s when he knew he would receive the best care. “It made me feel like someone had my back,” Sterner says. “He felt so good it brought tears to his eyes," added Sterner’s wife, Kelly Sterner.

The patient blood management team is with patients, from preparation for surgery all the way through their recovery. “I can't say enough good things. I was so happy that Kelly Frinzi was there,” says Sterner. “When there were things we didn't understand, she helped. She even helped us find a hotel.”

Conserving a precious resource

“Whether or not a patient participates in the Patient Blood Management Program, our surgeons follow best practices to avoid the use of transfused blood unless it is clinically indicated,” Wu says. “We also respect patients’ beliefs no matter what they are. We explain what complications may arise, but in the end the patient decides what we do.”

Performing a procedure without transfused blood presents additional risks. “Blood is so important when you have CAD,” says Wu. “It carries oxygen so if the patient doesn’t have enough, they may not be able to perform as well.”

Sterner took iron supplements and met with hematologists to ensure hemoglobin levels were optimal. In two weeks, he was ready for the procedure.

Surgery without blood

There are different techniques available to accomplish surgery without transfusion. One of those is to utilize a cell salvage machine. The machine collects lost blood and cleans it so that red blood cells can be given back to the patient. “It made me feel good to know the cell salvage machine was there in case I needed it,” Sterner says. Wu performed the surgery with the cell salvage machine nearby but was able to complete the surgery without using it. “They really respected how we felt,” says Sterner. “My recovery was better physically and emotionally.” 

"It makes me feel good knowing that they can do this procedure and that other people will receive the same care we did,” says Kelly Sterner. “If I had to have a procedure, I know I would be taken care of at LVH–Cedar Crest.”

Patient Blood Management

Bloodless Surgery

Learn more about bloodless surgery options at LVHN.

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