Bloodless surgery is a safe alternative for patients who do not want to receive blood transfusions during surgery, health experts told Fox News. Bloodless surgery helps individuals receive the surgery they need when they cannot or choose not to receive any blood or blood products such as red and white blood cells, platelets, or plasma, Dr. Ismail El-Hamamsy, MD, PhD, the Director of Aortic Surgery for Mount Sinai Health System in New York, told Fox News.
"It’s the holy grail – doing heart surgery without losing any blood," El-Hamamsy, who specializes in bloodless surgery technique, told Fox and added, "The ultimate goal is to avoid giving the patients any outside blood products or coagulation products."
The surgeon said during bloodless heart surgery, physicians use meticulous surgical techniques and innovative procedures to minimize surgical blood loss and avoid the need for a transfusion. El-Hamamsy said besides providing peace of mind to these patients, there has been study after study that show patients who do not receive blood transfusions have a better recovery than those who receive even a small amount of blood.
According to experts at the Johns Hopkins Medicine Center for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, research shows that patients who do not receive blood transfusions recover faster, experience fewer infections and have shorter hospital stays than those who did receive blood.
Respecting a patient’s religious beliefs not to receive transfusions while trying to save their life is a difficult predicament for a physician to be in, health experts shared. El-Hamamsy said it is a difficult dilemma that surgeons face.
"I know of a colleague that that has happened to, and they had to let the patient go and that’s a patient where a unit or two units of blood would have essentially saved their life."
El-Hamamsy said bloodless surgery involves extensive talks with the patient and the family members prior to the procedure to ensure all are on board in the event a blood transfusion is needed and a life and death decision must be made while adhering to the patient’s wishes.
El-Hamamsy was faced recently with the dilemma when Pete Cutrer, a 42-year-old firefighter and Jehovah’s Witness, was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, a condition that could lead to instant death if untreated. Cutrer’s religion prevented him from receiving a blood transfusion.
El-Hamamsy, told Fox news, "It's heart surgery. Things can happen and if they happen – in this case, it is like jumping off a plane without a parachute – we cannot deploy the parachute though we know it exists. We just can’t press the button."
Cutrer, a husband and a father of a 16-year-old boy, needed surgery, but told Fox News, it was challenging to find a highly skilled surgeon who could address his aneurism and also be trained in ways to prevent blood loss during surgery to prevent need for a transfusion.
"This doctor would need to have a current knowledge of blood conservation techniques. One who could offer strategies to optimize my blood count before the surgery and strategies to help minimize blood loss during the surgery," Cutrer told Fox. Cutrer reached out to members of his Jehovah’s Witnesses global network who helped him find physicians and hospitals that specialized in bloodless medicine. He was connected with Dr. El-Hamamsy's team from Mt. Sinai.
Cutrer told Fox News, "Even the doctors who refused to do my surgery without blood were respectful of my wishes. They simply didn’t have the experience to operate on me without blood. I appreciated their candor."
El-Hamamsy told Fox News, "My approach is everybody out there has a certain belief I am not one to judge that this belief makes more sense than that belief."
The surgeon had extensive discussions with Cutrer and both were prepared for a potentially negative outcome if blood was needed. "I spend a lot of time discussing it – these people really know what they are doing and they are well-educated about the whole thing. They understand it. Their families are in on it."
El-Hamamsy also said that it is important patients who are weary of receiving blood transfusion ask their surgeon what their rate of bloodless surgeries is with certain procedures, and said that many factors can affect the need for transfusions. He noted that with heart surgery, he has to be on top of his game but for patients like Cutrer, one has to be even more so.
"You come in even more prepared and ready to execute at an even higher level – I have a real distaste for any time any of my patients needs a blood transfusion so we try very hard to avoid getting to the point that a patient will need a transfusion, and that starts with meticulous surgery."
Thankfully, it was a successful bloodless surgery and no transfusion was necessary. Cutrer is recovering and told Fox News his network of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which includes 9 million membersworldwide, may be one of the driving forces in furthering the development of bloodless surgeries.
As for the surgeon, he told Fox News, "It feels great – that’s why we do what we do. I have the best job in the world."