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EMS helicopters to carry blood for emergency transfusions

STARS in Manitoba helicopters will fly with two units of O-negative blood for patient use on scene or during transport to a trauma center


STARS helicopters now stocked with blood for on-scene or in-flight transfusion. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

AP Photo/Valentina Petrova

Winnipeg, Manitoba — The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) Winnipeg base and five other Canadian air medical programs now stock and carry blood on board helicopters for administration to patients in need of lifesaving transfusions.

STARS in Manitoba anticipates using 30 units of blood per year, with a typical critical patient consuming two units during a transport. The shelf-life for whole blood is 42 days when stored properly.

“Access to blood in-transit will give the STARS flight team one more tool to use when they respond to scene calls and during patient transport,” Dr. Rob Grierson, chief medical officer, WRHA Emergency Response and Patient Transport, said.

Two units of O-negative blood are stored on the STARS helicopter in an insulated ‘Bethune Box’ thermal cooler. The cooler maintains a temperature of 4 C with a monitoring device, and if blood is not used within 72 hours it is cycled back to Diagnostic Services Manitoba where it will be inspected and made available to other patients.

“For the critically injured, blood can make the difference between life and death. Bringing blood transfusion to the patient at the roadside is a game-changing treatment that very few other services in North America provide,” Dr. Doug Martin, transport physician and medical director for STARS in Manitoba, said.

“A prompt response can mean the difference between life and death for STARS patients,” Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, said. “Having blood on board will improve outcomes and help save lives.”

Bethune Box history
The blood storage cooler was named the ‘Bethune Box’ in honor of Dr. Norman Bethune (1890-1939), a Canadian surgeon who developed the first mobile blood collection and distribution service. Operating during the Spanish Civil War, Bethune’s service provided over 5,000 units of blood directly to severely injured patients along a 1000 km battlefront, saving an estimated 300 to 400 lives. His innovation helped to shape contemporary approaches to the resuscitation and care of critically injured.

STARS is a nonprofit organization that provides specialized emergency medical care and transportation for critically ill and injured patients. STARS has bases in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.