PJs carry blood again, increase survival rates
Pararescuemen from the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, have brought back the ability to carry and administer blood to patients on rescue missions, increasing survival rates for injured warfighters.
Air Force rescue units haven't carried blood since the beginning of OEF in Afghanistan. The capability became obsolete because rescue units carrying blood on missions weren't treating any patients who required the blood. Since blood is a perishable asset, most of it went unused.
Now that Air Force rescue units are performing casualty evacuation more often, and are treating wounded warfighters who would benefit from blood, Maj. Patrick Gruber, the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander and his unit sought to carry blood again.
They performed the first procedure in several years Nov. 30 when a combat rescue officer and five pararescumen were tasked on a medical mission to rescue a Marine who had been critically wounded by an improvised explosive device.
The explosion severed both his legs below the knee and he suffered shrapnel wounds, causing him to lose critical amounts of blood. The Marine was going into shock as his body tried compensating for the blood loss. Using their newly acquired capability, the PJs administered packed red blood cells in order to keep the Marine alive and deliver him to a hospital.
"This mission was the first time the 46th ERQS has administered blood since we've started carrying blood with us on missions," Major Gruber said. "PJs have not carried blood since the beginning of the war for Operations Enduring Freedom ... it's been at least four years; we didn't carry blood in the spring of 2006 when I was here last."
"In only days following the approval, we saved a life because of the ability to administer blood and the skills of the PJs," said Major Gruber. "Simply speaking, without enough blood, people can't survive. Being able to resupply a wounded person's body with blood enables us to deliver him to higher-level medical care ... I've seen reports that if we get someone to (a hospital), then they have a greater than 95 percent chance of survival."
For Staff Sgt. George Reed, a 46th ERQS pararescueman who was part of the crew that day, taking care of the injured patient was a top priority, even if there were risks present.
"When we go out on the mission, we have to ensure the batteries for the thermal angels (fluid heating device) are fully charged ... and have the blood within arms' reach in the cooler," Sergeant Reed said. "We have to establish a minimum of two intravenous sites on the patient, warm the blood using a thermal angel, and administer it with normal saline. The main difficulty of giving blood is the patient having an abnormal reaction to the blood, but carrying blood is a great capability to have. If it wasn't for the blood, we may have lost the life of a Marine that day."
The 46th ERQS is a Guardian Angel unit composed of combat rescue officers, PJs, and survival, evasion, rescue and escape specialists. These Guardian Angels are specially trained and equipped to prepare for and respond to rescue operations for combat or humanitarian missions. They work together with HH-60 Pave Hawk crews and HC-130 King crews to fly into austere environments when needed.
They are credited with flying more than 800 missions, saving 500 lives and treating 600 other patients since the beginning of September. The unit also has a detachment at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Article by Senior Airman Melissa B. White, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs