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Lifesaving Blood Transfusions Before the ER

MedEvac, HNL Lab Medicine combine to start treatment in the field

Blood transfusions in the field have long been a practice in combat, and now the lifesaving procedure is coming to Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN)’s MedEvac ground ambulances and helicopters.

Under a partnership with HNL Lab Medicine, which manages the LVHN’s blood supply, LVHN MedEvac is beginning to carry whole blood for patients who need transfusions started before they can get to the emergency room.

“This will, without a doubt, save lives.” Jeffrey Kuklinski, DO, Chief, Division of Emergency Medical Services at LVHN and LVHN MedEvac Medical Director

“Having blood will change the way we practice in the field for sure,” says Jeffrey Kuklinski, DO, Chief, Division of Emergency Medical Services at LVHN and LVHN MedEvac Medical Director. “As medicine evolves, so does our clinical practice, and the national trend is to put whole blood in the hands of prehospital providers.”

Bryan Evans, Director, MedEvac and Critical Care Emergency Transport, says the ability to transfuse whole blood in the field can help stabilize trauma patients and others in need of blood earlier, resulting in better outcomes. He expects all MedEvac transports, including helicopters, to be carrying whole blood within the next few months.

MedEvac keeps the blood cold, then warms it prior to any transfusion.

Building momentum

A joint statement in 2022 from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the National Association of EMS Physicians says extreme blood loss remains the leading cause of preventable death among trauma patients, with nearly half dying before they reach a hospital. It says patients with hemorrhagic shock should get “prehospital blood products whenever available.”

Groups such as the Prehospital Blood Transfusion Initiative Coalition also are championing increased use of blood transfusions in the field, along with changes to better enable the practice. America’s Blood Centers®, whose members supply 60% of the U.S. blood supply, also is supporting the practice.

According to a June article in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, the number of EMS agencies in the U.S. transfusing prehospital blood rose from seven in 2018 to “156 and counting” today. “LVHN is proud to be among this select company,” Dr. Kuklinski says.

Evans says situations that might call for a blood transfusion before getting to a hospital include trauma patients or transferring complex surgical patients between hospitals. MedEvac colleagues, he says, were instrumental in getting the program going.

“We will be able to partner with other local community-based EMS agencies to collaborate providing care for victims – especially if we can get the blood to them and begin this advanced care prior to arriving at the hospital – ideally temporarily stabilizing them while in transit to definitive care,” Evans says.

“Though it may be difficult to predict how often whole blood will be used by our crews, it goes without saying that when a patient truly meets the criteria for needing it, we will have it to give to them,” Dr. Kuklinski says. “This will, without a doubt, save lives.”

Did you know?

Trauma is the leading cause of death for those under 45 and the fourth leading cause of death for all ages. Source: American Association for the Surgery of Trauma

HNL Lab Medicine will work with MedEvac to make sure they have the needed blood on board. Crews will use type O whole blood, also known as universal donor blood. Whole blood means the blood contains all three major blood components: red blood cells, platelets and plasma.

Dr. Kuklinski says HNL Lab Medicine was “phenomenal” in helping work through the process. “Their excitement to push the program further truly shows their commitment to helping our crews deliver better care in the field, and ensure they have the tools to carry out their missions,” he says.

Laura Bailey, Director, HNL Lab Medicine Blood Bank, says HNL Lab Medicine is thrilled to be part of the program, which will provide fresh whole blood to participating MedEvac ambulances every 24 hours to help ensure safety.

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