As a U.S. Air Force officer serving in Afghanistan, Dr. Donald Jenkins was the first trauma surgeon deployed to a base in Oman. His hospital didn’t have the blood components to treat two soldiers who needed them. With some quick thinking and an old NATO Emergency War Surgery Handbook, he transfused whole blood of compatible personnel right there on base. The soldiers survived.
This battle-tested experience led to greater use of whole blood in the combat zone. Service members who otherwise would have died began to pull through. Critically injured patients who need transfusions at hospital trauma centers have a mortality rate of about 75%. When whole blood is administered on the battlefield before patients get to a hospital, the mortality rate drops to as low as 20%. The discovery has compelling implications.
“It’s a game changer,” said Dr. Jenkins.
Today, Dr. Jenkins is a trauma surgeon at University Hospital and the distinguished chair in Burn and Trauma Surgery at UT Health San Antonio. He has also collaborated with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center to create Brothers in Arms, a program that provides whole blood for trauma patients throughout the region. Ground crew paramedics in San Antonio can use whole blood to transfuse patients with lifesaving results. Eight EMS units strategically located around the city carry whole blood to treat civilian traumas, and air transport medics flying from rural locations to University Hospital carry whole blood at all times.
Further advances are underway to implement this best practice from the battlefield. Soon, whole blood may be available in smaller hospitals across South Texas. The treatment has also been used to stabilize women who hemorrhage before and after childbirth, and other benefits may include bleeding due to ulcers, aneurysms or after surgery.