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Geisinger Life Flight now carrying blood on board

Saving Lives

PHOTO PROVIDED A small cooler containing two units of type O blood is ready for use by Geisinger Life Flight crews when they respond to a call. Life Flight’s six bases, nine helicopters and ground transport unit now have the equipment to properly store and transport blood, allowing crews to begin a blood transfusion as part of pre-hospital care.

Each time a Geisinger Life Flight crew heads out for a call, they’re now grabbing a small cooler containing their latest life-saving tool: blood. The addition of blood being onboard all air ambulances and the ground transport unit means better care for critically injured patients before they arrive at the hospital.

Life Flight’s six bases, nine helicopters and ground transport unit now have the equipment to properly store and transport blood, allowing crews to begin a blood transfusion as part of pre-hospital care. The effort is a collaboration between Geisinger Life Fight, emergency medicine and transfusion medicine.

“Administering blood to a traumatically injured patient before arriving at the hospital has been shown to decrease shock, reduce the need for blood transfusions in the hospital, and increases survival rates,” said Dr. Samuel Slimmer, a Geisinger emergency medicine physician and Life Flight’s associate medical director. “With the patient better stabilized when they arrive, we’re able to better evaluate their injuries and make sure they’re getting the correct treatment. In many cases, it can speed up the treatment process for patients who are often suffering from critical, life-threatening injuries. It makes a lot of sense, and it’s the right thing to do for the patient.”

Life Flight paramedics and flight nurses underwent additional training to learn how to store and pack blood as well as administer a blood transfusion. Guidelines were also developed for how and when to use blood in the field, including flight crews being in contact with medical command staff to evaluate patients in determining if a blood transfusion is appropriate while in transport to the hospital. Each medical helicopter carries two units of the universal type O blood.

“Being able to give blood to a patient before arriving at the hospital saves lives,” said Steve Davis, a flight nurse and supervisor at the Life Flight 4 base in Montoursville. “This has been a year-long process and something we recognized we needed to do to continue to enhance the critical and pre-hospital care our crew members provide every day. By offering this care, we’re adding value to the communities we serve.”

Each Life Flight base is equipped with blood storage refrigerators to keep blood at the proper temperature so it’s ready for use at any time. Each base also has specialized blood coolers designed to keep blood properly stored when it’s being transported in a helicopter.

Geisinger’s transfusion medicine team worked with Life Flight personnel to address the logistics and challenges of providing blood.

“Geisinger’s blood bank collaborated with Life Flight to create, enact and document proper workflows to manage blood storage and usage,” said Dr. Deborah Novak, a Geisinger transfusion medicine physician. “This included working together to teach the proper way to set up blood storage, how to transport blood in compliance with strict regulatory standards and how to properly monitor blood storage.”

Geisinger blood banks supply the blood Life Flight uses. Couriers transport blood between blood centers and Life Flight bases around-the-clock to ensure blood supplies are replenished should any blood be used on a call.

Since Life Flight started carrying blood earlier this year, blood transfusions have been completed more than 30 times.

Geisinger Life Flight has a fleet of nine helicopters, with six bases across central and northeastern Pennsylvania in Selinsgrove, State College, Avoca, Williamsport, Minersville and Lehighton, as well as a critical care transport ambulance. In 2018, Geisinger completed more than 2,700 flights and has flown more than 63,000 patients since beginning operations in 1981. Geisinger Life Flight has a staff of about 130, including 80 clinicians, and has an annual operating budget is approximately $15 million.

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