Blood Brothers - Well Maybe Not

On the television and in the papers the main story today has been about UK forces personnel receiving potentially contaminated blood.

Eighteen unfortunate soldiers suffered appalling injuries during battles in Iraq and Afghanistan and were given emergency blood transfusions using supplies from USA. It appears these may not have been screened properly and now these men and their families are facing an agonising wait to see if the life saving elixir has given them HIV, Hepatitis or Syphilis. My heart goes out to them.

Until this story broke I'd never considered what happened in wars. Of course I realised people got injured and sometimes died, but I'd never given any thought to armies actually taking their own blood supplies out with them. However, they do and it seems that under life or death situations, the injured are treated at the nearest available friendly medical unit, which is no different from being at home where you'd go to the closest suitable hospital.

The problem, which has arisen with the soldiers, is that the blood they were given in their various transfusions was not properly screened. UK blood is considered "clean" because the NHS screens it properly and treats it retrospectively, whatever that means. Obviously it's very important because the USA don't, (or didn't) do it, and that has put the men and their families at risk for potentially killing diseases. What a nightmare.

Donated blood lasts between 30 – 35 days, so supplies need to be constantly replaced, especially in war zones, and with fewer people donating these days it's a problem. Wouldn't it be great if the medical profession could come up with a safe alternative?

Clearly this is possible under certain circumstances as several operations and surgical procedures have been carried out on Jehovah Witness patients, whose faith prohibits the use of blood. Infact, this belief has caused them to be labelled as "murderers" in the past because of their unwillingness to allow blood transfusions.

Quite recently a young Witness died during childbirth and left her equally young husband with twins to raise. The newspapers of course had a field day, but the true events of the matter were never fully revealed, and I don't expect they ever will be, at least not with the blaze of publicity the original story had. A reliable person has told me though, that the circumstances of the tragedy were such that a blood transfusion wouldn't have saved her anyway.

No-one wants to die if they can help it, but equally most people wouldn't choose to have someone else's blood inside them either. Even "proper" screening has its limitations and there are enormous risks. Apart from the incompatibility issue, there is the increasing risk of AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis B and C, parasitic diseases and immune suppression.

I'm not a medical person and don't know the details, but as there clearly are alternative ways to save people's lives, maybe it's time for the medical profession to ask the Jehovah Witnesses exactly what they do. I know it's something to do with maintaining the amount of fluid in the body, and may even be using saline solution, but I don't know for sure. The thing is I've been told their sound medical practice ensures a shorter hospital stay, a better rate of recovery, lower costs and a better patient outlook, which is something, those eighteen worried soldiers could do with right now.

So the next time these well meaning, but misunderstood people come to your door, instead of shutting it in their face, why not ask them how it works? Their information could potentially save not only lives. but an awful lot of stress.

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