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Sharp Health News

The role of blood management during a pandemic

June 24, 2020

Jorge Martinez, program manager of the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center

Jorge Martinez, program manager of the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center, works with the surgical team at Sharp Chula Vista to ensure patients’ surgery wishes are honored. Jorge is photographed in the new hybrid procedure room at Sharp Chula Vista.

When coronavirus became a serious concern in the United States, nationwide focus turned to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer and critical care supplies like ventilators. Those who work around blood — such as donation center employees and surgery teams who rely on blood transfusions for patients who need them — saw another concern coming: a critical shortage of blood.

"We perform an average of 4,300 surgeries every year, and about 3% require blood transfusions or blood products for the health of the patient," says Daniel Cuellar, BSN, MACP, director of surgery at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. "This is why we rely on our partnership with the San Diego Blood Bank, as well as work closely with our Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center, to appropriately manage our blood supply and be prepared for shortages."

To date, there have been approximately 130,000 fewer blood donations nationwide due to cancellations of community blood drives and fewer people giving blood at donation centers. Also, the number of eligible donors has decreased due to the number of people infected with coronavirus, as well as those having to self-quarantine after exposure and being declined due to their travel history. All of this has contributed to a significant impact to San Diego's blood supply, especially as surgeries resume and facilities need to prioritize blood management.

The Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center has long embraced the concept of blood management. Opened in 2003, the program primarily served patients of the Jehovah's Witness faith, who are unable to accept blood transfusions for religious reasons. At the time, it was the only center of its kind in all of San Diego County. As the program grew, it began to attract more patients, including those who prefer to avoid blood transfusions for personal reasons. Studies have shown patients who have transfusion-free surgery may have shorter hospital stays, faster recovery times, less chance of infection and no risk of reactions to transfused blood.

"We felt it was important to serve the needs of our entire community," explains Jorge Martinez, program manager of the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Center. "There is ample literature that supports the safety of procedures that historically required transfusions, instead using innovative tools and techniques to preserve the patient's own blood."

At Sharp Chula Vista, these tools and techniques include medications taken before surgery to enhance a patient's own blood cell production, equipment that filters and returns a patient's own blood to them during surgery, and electrocautery and other tools to minimize blood loss. More than 100 doctors at Sharp Chula Vista are specially trained in and have committed to performing transfusion-free surgery if that is what a patient desires.

To learn more about bloodless medicine and surgery at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, visit sharp.com/bloodless.

For the news media: To speak with Jorge Martinez for an upcoming story, please contact Erica Carlson at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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