Volunteers in Iraq make sure there's no shortage of blood
November 26, 2004
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq — When the Air Force Theater Hospital needs whole blood, it has only to ask.
Soldiers, airmen, Marines and civilians will descend on the hospital to roll up their sleeves and bleed for the cause.
“Usually the problem is, we have too many people,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Jim Quinn, chief of staff of the hospital at Balad Air Base, which the Army calls Logistics Support Area Anaconda.
Whatever you call the base, the people who send out the request for blood call the response “wonderful.”
“I’ve had to turn them away. They show up in droves,” said Maj. Jody Noe, officer in charge at the hospital’s blood laboratory. “We’ve had them line up out the hallway.”
The hospital, operated by the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, has been busy lately. It treated hundreds of wounded American GIs, Iraqi troops, enemy fighters and civilians from the recent fighting in Fallujah, and used large amounts of blood in the process.
One doctor remembered a GI with both legs blown off who required “three human beings’ worth” of blood before he was stabilized.
During the week of the Fallujah offensive, the hospital gave out 281 units, said Master Sgt. Michael Kent, a technician in the blood laboratory. It has transfused nearly 1,000 pints since the Air Force medics arrived in September.
For most blood needs, the hospital can use blood products, such as packed red cells, that can be shipped and stored for long periods of time.
Those products come mostly from donors at American military bases around the world.
However, when the clotting qualities of platelets are needed, donors are required. Platelets cannot be stored.
“The only way to do that is with fresh blood,” Quinn said. “We’ve got a very good supply of everything but platelets.”
Noe said, “We can save [whole blood] for 24 hours. We like to give it within eight hours.”
That’s why the hospital is so thankful for the quick response of the donors. When a need arises, e-mails slither to all corners of the base, home of 23,000 people, asking for a particular blood type. Within 15 minutes, Noe said, volunteers start showing up.
Sometimes the need is met before everyone is even screened.
“We’ll send them home and tell them to keep their ears open,” she said.
Although people should wait eight weeks before donating again, Noe said, she has caught people returning within three days, offering another pint.
The base isn’t the only place that needs donors, Noe said. Despite the ability to store many of the blood products for long periods of time, there is a need for continued blood donation at military bases to maintain that supply.
“We need it,” she said. “We need it badly.”