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A crucial part of our critical care | This month’s thoughts

The idea of blood might make you go a bit weak at the knees. It does for a lot of people. Whether it’s the thought of a blood test, or the image of an accident, it’s not something many are comfortable with.

As a pre-hospital emergency medicine doctor, I am quite used to working with blood and am fascinated rather than fazed by the amazing things that can be done now on the scene of an emergency.

It’s World Blood Donor Day this month and so, what better time to brush up on your blood knowledge? Here are five facts you might not know about how we collect, store and use this vital fluid.

1. Blood on board

It’s not every day that we meet a patient so severely ill or injured that they need a blood transfusion, but we have it with us every time we are dispatched, just in case. Our helicopter and critical care response vehicles always have blood on board. We also carry plasma, which helps to heal injuries and reduce bleeding.

2. It’s everyone’s type

You probably know what your partner or your best friend’s favourite TV programme is, or how they like their cup of tea, but do you know their blood type? Many of us don’t even know our own. So how do we know what blood type a patient will be before we get on scene? The answer is, we don’t. Luckily, there is a special blood type, o-negative, that is the kind of chameleon of the blood world – it fits in everywhere. It is often called the ‘universal blood type’ because anyone can receive it. When time is of the essence in an emergency, it makes all the difference being stocked up with o-negative blood.

3. Being cold-blooded is not in our nature

Normal body temperature is naturally about 37 degrees, which is around the same temperature as a hot bath. So, before we give blood to a patient, it needs to be warmed up from its storage temperature of four degrees to 38 degrees. We do this using special heater units, which we carry as part of our extensive kit on board our vehicles.

4. the drive for fresh blood

As you might imagine, you can’t keep blood sitting in the chiller for very long. It has a shelf life of 72 hours, which is where our blood delivery assistants come in. They make the trip over to the John Radcliffe hospital in our special Lease Plan-sponsored vehicle every day, to make sure we have fresh supplies ready for anyone that might need it. It’s a real team effort, with everyone working towards one goal – to fight as hard as possible to give every patient the best chance of survival and recovery.

5. 110 patients helped when they needed it most

We were the second Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) unit in the country to carry blood on board our vehicles. Since 2018, we have given nearly 300 units of blood to over 100 patients.

When someone is bleeding heavily, for example after a road traffic collision, they are often unable to get enough oxygen to their vital organs. Every second counts and being able to give them the blood and plasma they most desperately need right then and there could be the difference between life and death.

So, there you have it. A crucial part of our critical care explained. But it’s also important to remember that none of this would be possible without you. By fundraising, donating, or volunteering, your support keeps us on the frontline of saving lives and helps us to be the lifeblood of our community.

By fundraising, donating, or volunteering, your support keeps us on the frontline of saving lives and helps us to be the lifeblood of our community.

Lizle Blom, Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine (PHEM) Doctor