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'Bloodless' transplant surgery offers new benefits

March 8, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
From car accidents to cancer to heart failure: Every 2 seconds, someone in the U.S. needs donated blood for surgeries. But reserves are often low, and some people have religious reasons that prevent transfusions. "Bloodless surgery" is becoming more than just a novel approach.

More hospitals are refining surgical techniques that don't use transfused blood. Now there's a surgery that allows surgeons to perform transplants without any donated blood. And experts say besides other benefits, these "bloodless" surgeries also cut infection rates in half.

A year ago, young Andrew Craver barely had the energy to laugh.

"One of the blood tests that they performed indicated that he had congestive heart failure," said Ian Craver, Andrew's father.

Andrew Craver's heart was so weak it couldn't pump enough blood or get enough oxygen to his organs. Andrew's only option was a heart transplant, but the Cravers' religion stood in the way.

"We're Jehovah's Witnesses," said Ian Craver.

"One of the main tenets of the faith is that the blood carries the soul, and so a blood transfusion is sacrilege, if you will," said Dr. Mark Galantowicz, a pediatric expert at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio.

Galantowicz and his team at Nationwide Children's Hospital performed a heart transplant without using a single drop of donated blood, making Andrew the youngest recipient of a bloodless heart transplant.

"The blood comes out of a body, goes through an artificial lung, an artificial heart, an artificial kidney, heater, cooler," said Galantowicz.

First, minimal blood tests are taken while the patient takes medicine to stimulate red blood-cell growth. During surgery, special machines catch any excess blood loss and return it to the body.

After surgery, the goal is to wean patients off the ventilator as quickly as possible to aid in blood conservation.

The bloodless transplant can reduce the risk of infection. But there is an increased risk of cell death and brain injury.

For Andrew, the surgery was successful.

"I think within a few days, he was riding his bicycle again," said Rachel Carver, Andrew's mother.

This medical first may set the standard of saving lives and saving blood.

Dr. Galantowicz says the bloodless transplants could ease blood shortages across the country, as well as reduce infection and rejection rates, and time spent in the intensive-care unit.