Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cutting back on blood use could halt infections, illness — and even death

SEATTLE — As a doctor and a patient, Dale Reisner knows the value of donated blood. But when the Seattle obstetrician had to have heart surgery four years ago, she did everything possible not to get a single drop.
“I don’t have any religious problems with it. If I was near death, I definitely would have taken blood, no question,” said Reisner, who is fine now at age 62. “But if I could avoid a transfusion by better pre-op preparation, then I was interested.”
Dr. Dale Reisner actively avoided a blood transfusion during surgery to repair a mitral valve in her heart.
Long dominated by Jehovah’s Witnesses — whose faith forbids blood transfusions — bloodless surgeries and blood conservation programs are now attracting mainstream patients worried about what some experts say are clear risks, including more infections, longer recuperation, increased illness and even death.
"The best blood is in your own veins,” said Dr. Lori Heller, medical director of the blood management program at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, where Reisner had her surgery — without any transfusion. “We want to think before we transfuse.”
Decades of experience with Jehovah’s Witness patients, including 1.5 million members in the United States, has helped propel the new emphasis on blood management, said Sherri Ozawa, clinical director of the Institute for Patient Blood Management at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey.
“In the early days, it was, ‘We have Witness patients, what in the world do we do with them?’” she recalled. “Now we believe it should be the standard of care.”
More doctors, from cardiac surgeons to orthopedists, are offering patients ways to conserve their own blood and avoid transfusions. From drugs that boost blood levels before surgery to cell salvage and blood diversion techniques during operations and lower thresholds for giving blood at all, the techniques are a sea change in the attitude that more blood is always better.

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