12 February 2009
The invention: A technique that greatly enhanced surgery patients’ chances of survival by replenishing the blood they lose in surgery with a fresh supply. The people behind the invention: Charles Drew (1904-1950), American pioneer in blood transfusion techniques George Washington Crile (1864-1943), an American surgeon, author, and brigadier general in the U.S. Army Medical Officers’ Reserve Corps Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), a French surgeon Samuel Jason Mixter (1855-1923), an American surgeon Nourishing Blood Transfusions It is impossible to say when and where the idea of blood transfusion first originated, although descriptions of this procedure are found in ancient Egyptian and Greek writings. The earliest documented case of a blood transfusion is that of Pope Innocent VII. In April, 1492, the pope, who was gravely ill, was transfused with the blood of three young boys. As a result, all three boys died without bringing any relief to the pope. In the centuries that followed, there were occasional descriptions of blood transfusions, but it was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that the technique gained popularity following the English physician and anatomistWilliam Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood in 1628. In the medical thought of those times, blood transfusion was considered to have a nourishing effect on the recipient. In many of those experiments, the human recipient received animal blood, usually from a lamb or a calf. Blood transfusion was tried as a cure for many different diseases, mainly those that caused hemorrhages, as well as for other medical problems and even for marital problems. Blood transfusions were a dangerous procedure, causing many deaths of both donor and recipient as a result of excessive blood loss, infection, passage of blood clots into the circulatory systems of the recipients, passage of air into the blood vessels (air embolism), and transfusion reaction as a result of incompatible blood types. In the mid-nineteenth century, blood transfusions from animals to humans stopped after it was discovered that the serum of one species agglutinates and dissolves the blood cells of other species. A sharp drop in the use of blood transfusion came with the introduction of physiologic salt solution in 1875. Infusion of salt solution was simple and was safer than blood transfusion.Direct-Connection Blood Transfusions In 1898, when GeorgeWashington Crile began his work on blood transfusions, the major obstacle he faced was solving the problem of blood clotting during transfusions. He realized that salt solutions were not helpful in severe cases of blood loss, when there is a need to restore the patient to consciousness, steady the heart action, and raise the blood pressure. At that time, he was experimenting with indirect blood transfusions by drawing the blood of the donor into a vessel, then transferring it into the recipient’s vein by tube, funnel, and cannula, the same technique used in the infusion of saline solution. The solution to the problem of blood clotting came in 1902 when Alexis Carrel developed the technique of surgically joining blood vessels without exposing the blood to air or germs, either of which can lead to clotting. Crile learned this technique from Carrel and used it to join the peripheral artery in the donor to a peripheral vein of the recipient. Since the transfused blood remained sealed in the inner lining of the vessels, blood clotting did not occur. The first human blood transfusion of this type was performed by Crile in December, 1905. The patient, a thirty-five-year-old woman, was transfused by her husband but died a few hours after the procedure. The second, but first successful, transfusion was performed on August 8, 1906. The patient, a twenty-three-year-old male, suffered from severe hemorrhaging following surgery to remove kidney stones. After all attempts to stop the bleeding were exhausted with no results, and the patient was dangerously weak, transfusion was considered as a last resort. One of the patient’s brothers was the dofew days later, another transfusion was done. This time, too, he showed remarkable improvement, which continued until his complete recovery. For his first transfusions, Crile used the Carrel suture method, which required using very fine needles and thread. It was a very delicate and time-consuming procedure. At the suggestion of Samuel Jason Mixter, Crile developed a new method using a short tubal device with an attached handle to connect the blood vessels. By this method, 3 or 4 centimeters of the vessels to be connected were surgically exposed, clamped, and cut, just as under the previous method. Yet, instead of suturing of the blood vessels, the recipient’s vein was passed through the tube and then cuffed back over the tube and tied to it. Then the donor’s artery was slipped over the cuff. The clamps were opened, and blood was allowed to flow from the donor to the recipient. In order to accommodate different-sized blood vessels, tubes of four different sizes were made, ranging in diameter from 1.5 to 3 millimeters.Impact, Crile’s method was the preferred method of blood transfusion for a number of years. Following the publication of his book on transfusion, a number of modifications to the original method were published in medical journals. In 1913, Edward Lindeman developed a method of transfusing blood simply by inserting a needle through the patient’s skin and into a surface vein, making it for the first time a nonsurgical method. This method allowed one to measure the exact quantity of blood transfused. It also allowed the donor to serve in multiple transfusions. This development opened the field of transfusions to all physicians. Lindeman’s needle and syringe method also eliminated another major drawback of direct blood transfusion: the need to have both donor and recipient right next to each other.