Category Archives: Resuscitation

Little-Known Whole Blood Transfusion Program: Part 2

In my last post, I described a long-standing whole blood transfusion program that was implemented by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL)about 10 years ago. Today, I’ll dig into the specifics of their protocol and review their results.

Here is an image of the protocol. You can click it to download a full-size pdf copy.

Here are the key points in the protocol:

  • It is only implemented if it will take more than 4 hours to get the patient ashore for more advanced care
  • If the patient is hemodynamically stable, permissive hypotension to MAP 75 is encouraged and TXA infusion / Vitamin K administration are considered when appropriate. The patient disembarks at the next port of call with advanced hospital capabilities.
  • If hemodynamically unstable, two large bore IVs are maintained, TXA and Vitamin K are given when appropriate, and whole blood collection and administration are initiated. Helicopter / coast guard transport is deemed acceptable to closest advanced hospital.

And here are the guidelines for donor selection:

  • The donor hierarchy is:
    • sexual partner of the patient
    • male passenger with blood donor card
    • male passenger without blood donor card
    • female passenger with blood donor card (beware of TRALI)
    • medical staff members
    • crew
  • Only one unit is taken from each donor, and they must not be anemic

Here are the factoids describing RCCL’s seven year experience with the program:

  • 73 patients received transfusions, including 67 passengers and 6 crew
  • Mean hemoglobin on presentation was 6
  • A total of 1-6 units were given
  • Six patients ultimately died; no details were given
  • There were no ABO seroconversions, and only two adverse reactions occurred, both allergic
  • The majority of the medical staff felt that this was a valuable program

Bottom line: This is the first whole blood transfusion program I have seen outside of hospitals and the military. Royal Caribbean has incorporated lessons learned from both in developing their protocol. It includes all the principles of balanced resuscitation, including limiting crystalloids, permissive hyportension, and 1:1:1 transfusion ratios. There are many other opportunities to implement similar protocols in areas where medical capabilities are austere, and this protocol should be used as a model to develop them.

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A Little-Known Whole Blood Transfusion Program

I’m just getting back from a speaking engagement at the 30th Annual (!) Parkview Trauma Symposium in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I love traveling around the country and speaking, because I have the opportunity to hear other fascinating speakers and pick up new tidbits for personal use and to share. This was one of my favorite symposia and the speakers were fantastic.

My colleague, Scott Thomas, is the Trauma Medical Director at Memorial Hospital of South Bend in Illinois and gave an excellent talk on goal directed, whole blood transfusion. The use of whole blood is growing in the US, as I’ve written about previously. However, I was totally unaware of the systematic use of this product in a unique industry: cruising.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) implemented a whole blood transfusion program in 2008 on a subset of its more than 40 cruise ships. The guests on cruise ships tend to be an older population, similar to what many trauma centers in the US encounter. Similarly, many have medical comorbidities that require them to take anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents, and they may develop bleeding conditions while on board.

A good deal of cruise time is spent at sea and away from ports that have major medical facilities. Helicopter transport from the ship is not readily available due to distance from shore, so patients who experience serious illness must be cared for in the onboard medical facilities until within striking range of a faster coast guard ship. It is not practical to store blood on board, so bleeding patients presented a real problem in the past.

In response to this, RCCL implemented a program that was very forward thinking for its time. It emphasized:

  • Transfusion based on hemodynamics, not a hemoglobin reading
  • Anticoagulant reversal, if possible
  • Use of TXA
  • Limited use of crystalloid
  • Permissive hypotension
  • Use of fresh, whole blood

Wow! And this was 10 years ago. In my next post, I’ll start working through the protocols and logistics that RCCL uses for this program in the (relatively) austere medical / trauma environment aboard a cruise ship.

Related post:

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Use Of Whole Blood For Massive Transfusion

We’ve been using fractionated blood components in medicine, and trauma specifically, for over 50 years. So why doesn’t component therapy work so well for trauma? Refer to the following diagram. Although when mixed together the final unit of reconstituted blood looks like whole blood, it’s not. Everything about it is inferior.

Then why can’t we just switch back to whole blood? That’s what our trauma patients are losing, right? Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. The military has been able to use fresh warm whole blood donated by soldiers which has been stored for just a few hours. That is just not practical for civilian use. We need bankable blood for use when the need arises.

This ultimately means that we need to preserve the blood, and this requires a combination of preservatives to prevent clotting and keep the cellular components fresh, and refrigeration to avoid bacterial growth. This is not as simple as it sounds. Adding such a preservative to whole blood dilutes it by about 12%. And there are concerns that cooling it may have effects on platelet function. Recent data suggests that platelet function in cooled whole blood is preserved, but platelet longevity is decreased.

There are other issues with the use of whole blood as well. It contains a full complement of white blood cells, and this may be related to reports of venous thrombosis, respiratory distress, and even graft vs host disease. Unfortunately, removing the white cells (leukoreduction) also tends to remove the platelets, and there is little literature detailing the safety of this practice.

Another problem is the plasma component in whole blood. Universal donor (type O) whole blood may contain significant amounts of anti-A and anti-B antibodies. For these reasons, most blood banks limit the number of whole blood units transfused to a handful. A recent paper from OHSU in Portland details a massive transfusion in which 38 units were given to one patient. There was no transfusion reaction, but platelet counts dipped precipitously. All centers currently using whole blood utilize only low-titer anti-A and anti-B units.

So does whole blood work as expected in the civilian arena? The data is still incomplete, but the total transfusion volume appears to be decreased in patients without severe brain injury. With the increased interest and use of whole blood, it is imperative that more safety and efficacy studies are forthcoming.

Here are some tips on getting started with your own whole blood program:

  • Develop a relationship with a supplier of whole blood. Hammer out the details of the exact product (product age, leukoreduction, titer levels, returnability if not used).
  • Obtain approval from your hospital’s Transfusion Committee!
  • Work with your blood bank to develop processes to ensure proper availability and accountability. What is the maximum number of units that can be used in a patient? When should units be returned to the general pool to ensure they are not wasted?
  • Decide where whole blood will be available. Obviously, the blood bank will house the majority of the product. But should you have it in an ED refrigerator? On air or ground EMS units? These situations demand several extra layers of oversight and add greatly to complexity.
  • Educate, educate, educate! Make sure everyone involved, in all departments, are familiar with your new MTP!

References:

  1. Whole blood for resuscitation in adult civilian trauma in 2017: a narrative review. Anesth Analg 127(1):157-162, 2018.
  2. Massive transfusion of low-titer cold-stored O-positive whole blood in a civilian trauma setting. Transfusion, Epub Dec 27, 2018.
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Why Do We Use Fractionated Blood Components?

Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the use of the newest and greatest blood product: whole blood. Wait, isn’t that what we started out a hundred years ago? How is it that we are even debating the use of blood component therapy vs whole blood? Most living trauma professionals only remember a time when blood components have been infused based on which specific ones were needed.

Prior to about 1900, blood transfusion was a very iffy thing. Transfusions from animals did not go well at all. And even from human to human, it seemed to work well at times but failed massively at others. In 1900, Landsteiner published a paper outlining the role of blood groups (types) which explained the reasons for these successes and failures. With the advent of blood storage solutions that prevented clotting, whole blood transfusion became the standard treatment for hemorrhage in World War I.

When the US entered World War II, it switched to freeze-dried plasma because of the ease of transport. However, it quickly became clear that plasma-only resuscitation resulted in much poorer outcomes. This led to the return to whole blood resuscitation. At the end of WWII, 2000 units of whole blood were being transfused per day.

In 1965, fractionation of whole blood into individual components was introduced. This allowed for guided therapy for specific conditions unrelated to trauma. It became very popular, even though there were essentially no studies of efficacy or hemostatic potential for patients suffering hemorrhage. The use of whole blood quickly faded away in both civilian and military hospitals.

The use of fresh whole blood returned for logistical reasons in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of military studies were carried out that suggested improved outcomes when using whole blood in place of blood that has been reconstituted from components. That leads us to where we are today, rediscovering the advantages of whole blood.

And that’s what I’ll review tomorrow!

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Prehospital Use Of The ABC Score And MTP

Early and appropriate resuscitation is critical in any severely injured trauma patient. Typically, the trauma team assesses the patient upon arrival and makes a determination as to what type of resuscitation fluids are most appropriate. If blood is judged to be necessary, individual units can be given, or the massive transfusion protocol (MTP) can be activated.

I’ve previously written about two objective methods to assist in the decision to activate your MTP, shock index (SI) and assessment for blood comsumption (ABC). These have traditionally been applied once the patient arrived. What would happen if you used prehospital information to calculate the ABC score and were able to activate your MTP sooner rather than later?

The group at the University of Colorado in Aurora studied this concept. The charge nurse captured information to calculate the ABC score from the initial prehospital information received by phone while the patient was enroute. He or she would then activate the MTP in order to have blood products delivered as close to patient arrival as possible.

They reviewed their experience over a 29-month period. The first 15 months used their original system, calculating ABC on arrival and then deciding whether to activate MTP. During the final 14 months, it was calculated prior to patient arrival and the MTP was “pre”-activated when the score was 2 or more. The primary outcome studied was mortality, and secondary variables were appropriate activation of MTP, and adherence to balanced resuscitation ratios.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 119 patients with hypotension and/or MTP activation were studied; 24 occurred pre-implementation and 95 post
  • Pre-implementation, 63% of 24 hypotensive patients had MTP activation and only 6 (40%) received blood. Only 2 patients (33%) had RBC:FFP ratios between 1:1 and 2:1.
  • Post-implementation, 98% of hypotensive patients had MTP activation, a 6-fold increase
  • Also post-implementation, 42% of the activations received the blood, and balanced product ratios increased to 77%
  • Overall mortality decreased from 42% to 19% after implementation, all of which occurred in the penetrating injury group
  • Hospital and ICU lengths of stay were unchanged and there were no readmissions

Bottom line: The authors actually rolled two studies into one here. The main focus of the paper was to look at use of ABC score using prehospital information, but they also changed their MTP setup at the same time. During the initial part of the study, they did not have thawed plasma available, so the first cooler contained only red cells. Plasma was delivered when available, usually about 45 minutes after the first cooler had arrived. Post-implementation, thawed plasma was included in the first cooler.

So is the reduction in mortality (only in penetrating injury) due to early availability of the entire cooler, or because the desired product ratios were much more consistently met? Unfortunately, we can’t know.

This is a relatively small study, but the results with respect to blood actually being given, attainment of ratios, and mortality are impressive. Is the takeaway message to activate MTP early based on prehospital info or to make sure all coolers stock plasma? My take is that it’s probably best to do both!

Related posts:

Reference: Effect of pre-hospital use of the assessment of blood consumption score and pre-thawed fresh frozen plasma on resuscitation and trauma mortality. JACS 228:141-147, 2019.

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