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Sharp Health News

Surgical options for those who do not accept blood

May 17, 2016

Surgical options for those who do not accept blood

Leer en español

Surgical procedures inherently carry risk, and one of those risks is blood loss and the need for a blood transfusion. But what if your religious or personal beliefs do not allow for blood transfusion?

Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center has the only comprehensive program in San Diego County that offers transfusion-free or "bloodless" surgery.

"Many patients are unable to receive a blood transfusion during surgery for personal or religious reasons. For these patients, it's especially important to choose a doctor who respects their wishes," says Dr. Hugo Barrera, a surgeon affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista. "We have more than 100 doctors representing a variety of specialties who are committed to honoring patients' individual needs and values. It's part of the reason Sharp is known for putting patients first."

Sharp Chula Vista offers alternative therapies for a range of surgical procedures, from routine appendectomies to open-heart surgery, knee and hip replacements, cardiac bypass surgery, uterine fibroid removal, hysterectomy and gall bladder removal.

Blood-saving techniques used by the team at the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center include:

  • Filtering the patient's own blood using a cell-saver machine
  • Operating laparoscopically to reduce incision sizes
  • Stimulating blood-cell production through the use of certain pharmaceuticals
  • Using electrocautery and other tools to reduce blood loss
  • Enhancing blood circulation using volume expanders

If a patient faces a life-threatening complication during a bloodless procedure, the hospital's blood bank will be prepared to supply the needed blood safely. Although transfusions are a comparatively safe procedure with significant benefits, some patients may occasionally develop allergic reactions, fevers, chills or other rare complications.

While the blood supply in the United States is safer than ever before, there remains a very small risk of transmission of hepatitis B and C, HIV, and other rare diseases.

In addition to protecting patients from these potential side effects, research shows that bloodless surgery holds other benefits for recovery. A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that patients who underwent bloodless cardiac surgery spent less time in intensive care and had a higher survival rate than those who received transfusions. Research also shows that bloodless surgery patients experience fewer heart attacks and strokes post-surgery.

Since 2003, Sharp Chula Vista has cared for more than 5,000 patients using blood-conservation techniques, according to Jorge Martinez, manager of the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center. The bilingual care team includes specially trained nurses, social workers and pastoral care providers to ensure patients receive the support they need before and after surgery.

For the media: To talk with Dr. Barrera about bloodless medicine in English or Spanish, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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