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Face of Defense: Medic Learns Benefits of Blood Donations

By Shannon Collins DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2015 — San Antonio Military Medical Center officials at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas encourage people to donate to the Armed Services Blood Program, because the blood directly supports warfighters downrange as well as trauma and burn patients there and other military treatment facilities and Veterans Affairs facilities.

“Whether it’s a trauma patient, burn patient or one of our patients up in the bone marrow transplant unit who needs blood, we need blood every day,” said Mark Salcedo, a blood donor recruiter and public affairs specialist at the medical center’s Akeroyd Blood Donor Center. “Whether it’s here in San Antonio, downrange, wherever, we want to make sure our patients have what they need when they need it. That can only happen when we have blood donors. Thank you to the ones who come in to make sure our patients have what they need, and we invite those who are considering donating.”

Burn Patients Need Blood

Army Master Sgt. Matthew Aaron Deller learned firsthand the benefits of blood donations. On Dec. 8, 2013, he was starting a fire in his fireplace and didn’t know there was a gas leak. It exploded, causing him to be burned over 77 percent of his body. He has since undergone a total of 14 procedures.

Burn patients may not need blood when they are initially seen, but may need blood transfusions during the grafting of their burn wounds during the subsequent surgeries, said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Wylan Peterson, deputy director of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center.

“The excision and grafting of burn wounds causes a significant amount of blood loss,” he explained. “As a result, the patients rely on blood transfusions in order to survive these procedures. For example, a patient who suffers from 20 percent total body surface area burn injuries may lose up to three liters or more of blood during surgery.”

Peterson said sometimes a burn victim has a rare blood type.
“We have had a few patients who have had rare blood types, which required our blood bank to place citywide requests for blood donors,” he said. “These are instances when blood donations make a difference.”

A Grateful Recipient

Deller said he doesn’t know how much blood he has received, but he knows it was quite a bit as he underwent major skin graft work. He said if he met the people who donated the blood he received, he would thank them.

“I would hug them first and just say thank you,” he said. “I know that it saved my life.”

Deller, who has served in the Army for 17 years, said when he was a first sergeant, his students used to ask him about donating blood and where the blood would go.

“Knowing it was going to fellow soldiers was a big deal to them,” he said. “I’m a combat medic, and I’ve been deployed a few times. I’ve seen its direct effect on the battlefield and now being a recipient, it’s a big deal. It’s huge.”

He said if students ask him about the program now, “I’m going to tell them I’m alive because of it, and I’m going to stress the importance of it even more so, because I’m a recipient.”

Deller said he was given a negative 12 percent chance of living and when he woke up the first time from his coma. He couldn’t wiggle his toes, couldn’t breathe on his own, and couldn’t do anything without the help of a machine.

“The only thing I had was being able to cry. That was the only thing I had control over, and I did,” he said. “After that, I said you know what, I’m going to live, and if I’m going to live, I’m going to do everything I used to do. The rehabilitation staff, the Army trained physicians and nurses and DoD trained staff, it’s amazing what they do on a day-to-day basis with not just me but with everybody else who’s been through something as traumatic as what I’ve been through or even worse. I’m very lucky.”

Deller said his family and the battle buddies who didn’t make it home inspire him in his recovery.

“There’s nothing more inspiring than thinking about my children and my friends -- those that we’ve lost, those I’ve personally lost, and that hits home -- and I’ve just got to stay alive, and I’ve got to keep fighting to honor their memory and to be there for my own children,” he said.

Armed Services Blood Program

The ASBP provides quality blood products for service members, veterans and their families in both peace and war. As a joint operation among the military services, the many components work together to collect, process, store, distribute and transfuse blood worldwide, said Army Lt. Col. Jose Quesada, chief of blood services at Brooke Army Medical Center.

Each working day, the staff of the Akeroyd Blood Donor Center at Joint Base San Antonio conducts blood drives to support the program. The primary mission of the blood donor center is to support the overseas blood support detachments and medical treatment facilities. Additional products support the San Antonio Military Medical Center’s day-to-day requirement for traumas, burn patients and surgical cases.

For more than 60 years, the Armed Services Blood Program has been collecting, processing and distributing blood products for the military community. It operates more than 20 blood donor centers worldwide.

The Importance of Donors

January is National Blood Donor Month, but the need for donations does not cease at the end of the month, because blood is perishable. Quesada encourages everyone to donate to ASBP.

“Without our blood donors, our patients may not go home,” he said. “Whether it was blood for a patient here at the San Antonio Military Medical Center or for a combat casualty overseas, we need blood donors. We thank them for giving a little of themselves to ensure our patients have what they need when they need it. We thank them for their time and support to our missions.”