CareFlight adds whole blood to patient care capabilities


MIAMI VALLEY — Premier Health’s CareFlight recently became certified to carry and use whole blood to treat patients suffering from traumatic injuries.

In trauma situations, first responders are racing against the clock to keep patients alive. The “ABC” of trauma assessment — airway, breathing, circulation — are the first priorities as EMS arrive on a scene.

Being able to use whole blood in situations that require a transfusion allows CareFlight nurses to save minutes in getting blood into a patient, even before their Dauphin helicopter transports the victim at nearly 200 mph to the area’s only Level 1 Trauma Center at Miami Valley Hospital.

Dr. Andrew Hawk, medical director for CareFlight, said the addition of whole blood on board the area’s four CareFlight helicopters “extends our care to the community. This allows us to start a transfusion, for someone who needs one, even before we get them to the hospital.”

Paramedics have long used blood products. “When you donate blood, the blood is separated into products, packed red blood cells, platelets, and a few other things. Those are what have been historically carried and transfused. What we are (now) carrying is whole blood which is all of those things in one container,” said Hawk. “It allows us to start blood before you even get to the hospital.”

CareFlight is the first program in Ohio to be authorized to carry whole blood.

Hawk emphasized that the whole blood is just a “piece of the puzzle,” with rapid transport, appropriate intervention, and getting victims to the Level 1 Trauma Center and our surgeons and all of the attributes that have been assembled at Miami Valley is most important.”

Hawk said the journey to gain certification for this new level of care has taken more than two years, adding that the care and control of whole blood is the most highly-regulated aspect of medicine.

The blood supply must be stored at specific temperatures and has a “shelf life” of around two weeks, after which it must be discarded if not used. As blood aboard the four CareFlight helicopters nears it expiration date, it is rotated to Miami Valley Hospital blood stocks to insure it might be used.

Much of the day-to-day responsibility for the nurses who work aboard CareFlight and the blood carried aboard falls to Molly Nickell, Clinical Operations manager for CareFlight. Nickell praised CareFlight nurses, Dana Zack, Jessica Oakley, and Carlton Randall, who are referred to as the “blood group” for undergoing the training and trials necessary in the two-year quest to add whole blood to the CareFlight care “package.”

“They have single-handily trained everybody in the entire department,” said Nickell.

“It is a relief to know that we can give these patients that absolute best critical care in the field before we get them to the Level 1 Trauma Center,” said Nickell. “Patients who are out in rural communities, patients who wouldn’t typically have access to this for some time because of the distance to transport, we can initiate the care that they need.”

Hawk recognized the partners in the program, including Dr. Daniel Hood, of blood transfusion services at Miami Valley Hospital, and his colleague Teresa Pleasant, along with Dr. Alexander at the Community Blood Center.

Assistant Troy Fire Chief Eric Krites said of the additional service offered by CareFlight, “It is, by far, a very valuable asset to us. Knowing that is there and we can call them and have blood on the scene for a trauma patient will help speed up the process of getting blood to the patient and potentially save their life.

Those sentiments were echoed by Captain Doug Stewart of the Piqua Fire Department, who said, “It cuts down on the getting blood in the patient and can keep them alive.”

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