Sometimes patients, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, refuse blood transfusions for deeply held religious beliefs; sometimes they fear the potential infections from tainted blood. Whether the reason is ethical, moral or medical, certain people will forego life-saving surgery rather than risk receiving someone else’s blood. Now all kinds of operations can be safely performed in certain designated centers without any dependence on transfusions. Using such techniques as minimizing blood loss, building up a patient’s own blood prior to surgery and collecting it on the operating table for reuse, doctors can repair heart valves and aneurysms, do stem-cell transplants, carry out open-heart procedures, deliver babies, replace hips — you name it — without replacing lost blood with units from a donor supply.
Patricia Ford, medical director of the Center for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital, performed the first successful bloodless stem-cell transplant in 1996, and remains one of the few physicians worldwide who perform this tricky procedure. With 10 years of experience in the field, Penn is a leader in offering bloodless surgery for simple as well as complicated cases that are referred there from throughout the region. Currently this center is working with health officials in China on blood safety and conservation in conjunction with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, because China’s blood-supply system isn’t as carefully monitored as ours in America (700 Spruce Street, suite 102, 800-789-PENN, pennhealth.com/bloodless).
Since its inception in 2000, the Center for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery at Abington Memorial Hospital has treated 1,000 patients, providing comprehensive education and social support along with the necessary blood conservation before and during surgery (1200 Old York Road, Abington, 215-481-7400, amh.org).
Like its adult counterparts, the Advanced Blood Conservation Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children employs surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and hematologists to manage surgery on young patients whose parents are opposed to blood transfusions (Erie Avenue at Front Street, 215-427-5000, stchristophershospital.com).