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Aeromedical Evacuation Helps Overcome Platelet Shortage

American Forces Press Service

SOUTHWEST ASIA, July 27, 2005 – U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation teams coordinated airlift of blood platelets for two patients in Iraq and Afghanistan recently.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Balad Air Base contingency aeromedical staging facility members in Iraq and volunteers load patients onto an Air Force C-141 from the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, July 25. Volunteers at the CASF help transfer patients to the flight line for aeromedical evacuation flights. Photo by Senior Airman Jason P. Robertson, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In the first mission of its kind, medics saved an Army soldier diagnosed with a rare and rapidly growing cancer and ensured a Jordanian coalition partner survived a flight home. Both patients needed a transfusion of blood platelets before their flights.

"Blood platelets cannot be transported over long distances due to their fragility," said Air Force Maj. Barbara Martin, aeromedical evacuation control team chief in the Combined Air Operations Center.

"The Army patient needed to be immediately transported out of theater for definitive care, but his blood counts were significantly lower than the safe limits recommended for airlift," she said. A platelet transfusion was necessary to ensure the patient's safety during the overseas flight, she said.

Platelets were not available, so the patient was airlifted to the Air Force Theater Hospital in Iraq. There, he received a blood infusion, then was stabilized for continued travel out of the theater.

"The patient's condition wouldn't have tolerated a direct flight and likely would have deteriorated significantly," said Martin.

Similarly, the Jordanian needed a transfusion of platelets before flying, but licensed blood platelets are not available anywhere in Afghanistan, said Martin.

The Jordanian was suffering from a massive brain hemorrhage due to a severe blood platelet disorder. Accompanied by a Jordanian physician, he was moved by C-130 aircraft to a U.S. Army field hospital in Afghanistan.

"While doctors there stabilized the patient, two governments went to great lengths to get a dedicated C-17 on tap to fly this urgent aeromedical evacuation mission to Jordan," said Martin.

Because of the lack of platelets in Afghanistan, the 440th Army Blood Supply Unit at Bagram Air Base was on standby to collect whole blood containing active platelets from volunteer donors to stabilize the patient.

With a critical care air transport team on the C-17 providing fixed-facility intensive care treatment, the patient survived the flight to Amman, Martin said.

(From a U.S. Central Command Air Forces news release.)

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