News 9 MD: Heart surgery and transfusions

News 9 MD: Heart surgery and transfusions

(WTVM) - Every two seconds in the United States, someone needs blood.

One-fifth of the nation's entire blood supply used during heart surgery and blood transfusions is not only costly, but they can pose risks for patients.

Some hospitals in the U.S. are significantly reducing transfusion rates during heart surgery.

Harriet White has a new aortic valve, a new lease on life, and she's feeling great even though she just had open-heart surgery.

"I'm thrilled that I didn't need a transfusion," White said. "It's just one more thing that can go wrong"

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has issued new guidelines to help hospitals cut back on transfusions during aortic valve surgery.  Measures include rationing IV fluids, controlling blood thinners, and cell saving.

"Using devices so that if there's some bleeding during surgery the blood is not sent to a sucker that's discarded," explained Dr. Robert Brooker from Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. "It's sent to a recycling-type device so you can have that blood re-infused later."

Memorial Regional Hospital is one of a number of hospitals in the U.S. using blood conservation measures. The hospital dramatically reduced the percentage of heart surgery patients getting transfusions from 59 percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2011, and the benefits are significant.

"The people who get a blood transfusion generally, in general do more poorly," Dr. Brooker said. "They have a higher risk of death. They have a higher risk of infection."

As a result, Dr Brooker says patients like Harriet White do better overall and blood can be saved for those who really need it.

In a recently- published study on aortic valve replacement surgery and blood conservation, researchers found patients who had the surgery without a transfusion were almost two times less likely to have a major complication.

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