Each year, thousands of accident and trauma victims die on the way to the nearest emergency room. Most ambulances don't carry blood on board because of storage and temperature concerns. So the patient can lose a lot of blood during that ride to the hospital, which can trigger a drop in blood pressure and blood loss to vital organs and that can lead to organ failure and eventually death. So here's what's new. Some ambulances have been taking part in a nationwide study for a year now carrying a blood product called Polyheme on board, which is an oxygen carrying blood substitute made from human blood.
"Because it has hemoglobin in it, it allows hemoglobin to carry oxygen, just like your own blood does. This current product does not seem to have any risk at all, and it's been studied in over hundreds of patients, so we think it's a very safe product," says Dr. David Hoyt, a trauma surgeon at the University of California at San Diego.
Dr. Hoyt says Polyheme is basically blood that's been purified to its simplest form and it's chemically modified so that it can be used in people of all blood types without the fear of mixing blood types. Another advantage is regular blood has a shelf life of about 42 days, but Polyheme can last up to 12 months. It is still considered experimental though. In fact, in the cities where it is being tested, patients have the option of wearing a wristband warning paramedics if they do not want Polyheme in an emergency. It's interesting to note that in this first year of study, 75 percent of the patients who were given Polyheme on the way to the hospital survived at least a month after their emergency compared to just a 35 percent survival rate in the group that chose not to get that blood substitute. Here in Lubbock, Les Long at United Blood Services says Polyheme is not used in Lubbock yet because it's just so expensive right now, but he says it is being tested in Dallas.