Chula Vista, Calif. — Bloodless surgery — operations performed without the use of donated blood — has existed for years for patients with religious objections to transfusions, but now hospitals nationwide are embracing the practice more widely, with evidence that it's healthier, safer and less costly than standard surgery. An early pioneer, the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center celebrates 10 years this month.
"We existed for a specific sect of patients when we began," said Jorge Martinez, who came from Johns Hopkins Hospital to serve as the center's program manager. "We still serve those patients, but we've opened many more eyes to the benefits of bloodless over the last decade."
Bloodless surgery, also known as blood conservation, began as an alternative for groups like Jehovah's Witnesses who believe that blood has sacred meaning and should not be removed from the body. There are approximately 40,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in San Diego County.
"I feel lucky to have been able to avoid a blood transfusion and be healthy again," said Hortencia Ramirez, who received a bloodless hip replacement after a car crash shattered her pelvis.
Today, blood conservation has become more mainstream as health care costs increase, blood supplies dwindle and research points to the benefits of avoiding nonessential transfusions. Champions of bloodless surgery say that in addition to reducing costs related to buying, storing, processing, testing and transfusing blood, the technique reduces the risk of infections and complications that keep patients in the hospital longer.
Avoiding transfusions can be accomplished many ways, including drawing less blood for testing, operating with electrocautery and smaller incisions to stem blood loss, administering medications to prevent bleeding, and using a cell saver machine to collect, filter and return a patient's blood back into their body.
"Any time I have the option to operate without transfusions, I do," said Dr. Harbinder Chadha, an orthopedic surgeon who performed Ramirez's hip replacement. "The benefits to my patients are the most important, but there are personal benefits as well."