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Blood storage gives STARS a head start on transfusions

11.06.2013

The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) in Regina has become the first air medical service in Canada to begin stocking blood in advance for life-saving transfusions on air medical missions.

This new approach, spearheaded by Regina General Hospital Transfusion Lab staff, allows the helicopter emergency medical service to begin a blood transfusion early. The first hour of emergency care is nicknamed “the golden hour” because lives can be saved if critically ill patients can be stabilized before arrival at a trauma centre.

“This life-saving innovation improves the speed and effectiveness of emergency care for patients outside major urban centres,” Health Minister Dustin Duncan said. “It’s great to see the commitment by teams in both organizations to put patients first.”

“Because STARS serves critically-ill patients, we saw an opportunity to expedite care by equipping crews with blood in advance that could be used immediately for missions,” Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region’s Medical Section Head of Transfusion Medicine Dr. Donna Ledingham said. “My colleagues in the lab began working on a process using compact, medically-safe coolers to ensure the blood can be properly stored and transported until it is needed. With collaboration from STARS, we now have a safe process that meets federal blood regulations.”

STARS maintains a supply of two units of O negative blood from the transfusion lab, securely enclosed in a six kilogram (13 pound) insulated thermal cooler with a monitoring device to ensure proper temperature. If the blood is not used within 72 hours, it is returned to the hospital, inspected to ensure quality, and then made available to other patients.

“There are very few helicopter EMS services in North America that do this,” STARS Clinical Operations Manager Darcy McKay said. “Having access to blood as part of pre-hospital care eliminates the delay of having to stop at a hospital during the flight, as we’ve done in the past. This is a true life-saving measure.”

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