New First-Aid Products Could Save Lives, Officials Say
By Sarah Maxwell
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2008 Two new first-aid products being sent into the combat theater could save more soldiers’ lives, Army medical officials said at a Pentagon news conference Oct. 15.
Test results from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s Institute of Surgical Research showed Combat Gauze field bandages and WoundStat granules both demonstrated marked improvements over what’s currently used in the field, Army Col. (Dr.) Paul Cordts of the Army surgeon general’s office said.
“These products improve survival, result in less blood loss and improved post-injury blood pressures,” he said.
Excessive blood loss is the No. 1 killer on the battleground, Cordts, a surgeon, said. Both products can stop bleeding quickly in wounds where tourniquets can’t be used, he said.
Combat Gauze uses kaolin, a fine, white clay, to stop bleeding, Cordts said, and WoundStat granules react with blood to form a barrier, preventing more bleeding.
More than 92 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan survive their injuries in combat – the highest percentage of any war, according to the U.S. Army Medical Department. Army Master Sgt. Horace Tyson, a combat medic, said he attributes the high number of people being saved to the advanced tools the Army provides medics, such as dressings that stop or slow blood flow from wounds.
Having recently returned from a 15-month assignment in Iraq as the senior enlisted manager in a battalion aid station in the heart of Baghdad, Tyson said, he saw first-hand the benefits of dressings with blood-clotting capabilities.
“I categorize these products as lifesavers for us,” said Tyson, who now works as a senior operations manager for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
A servicemember can bleed to death within minutes of being hurt, Tyson said.
“The bandages make the difference between a [soldier] having no chance of living because he’ll bleed out in five minutes vs. me getting him to an aid station within 20 minutes and him staying alive,” Tyson said. “Without the bandages, he could be dead.”
With 19 years of experience and four deployments in conflict areas under his belt, Tyson said, he’s seen the Army’s scientific research drastically improve medics’ tools and training.
“If we’re going to get something else better for the battlefield, that’s great,” he said.
About 270,000 12-foot strips of Combat Gauze are expected to be in theater by the end of the year, said Lt. Col. Sean Morgan from Program Executive Office Soldier, the agency fielding most of the bandages. More than 17,000 packages of WoundStat also will be working their way to the field, he said.
The new dressings are expected not only to save more lives, but also to bring significant cost savings to the government, Cordts said. Combat Gauze is less than $30 per dressing, compared to the currently used HemCon bandage, which uses chitosan from shrimp shells to stop blood and costs $88 per bandage. WoundStat also is less expensive than the QuikClot granules it replaces.
The Army plans to equip combat lifesavers to carry three gauzes, and eventually all soldiers will have one in their improved first aid kits. Combat medics, who are highly trained in emergency trauma, will be given three gauzes, but will be the only ones to carry WoundStat, since it requires more medical expertise to use, Cordts said.
Although the new hemostatic dressings are promising great improvements, Dr. David Baer, ISR’s director of surgical research, said it doesn’t mean the Army isn’t still looking for the next line of products that could offer even more improvements.
ISR scientists looked into about two dozen other products in the last few years before they discovered Combat Gauze and WoundStat, and they will continue their efforts for even more cutting-edge products to save lives, he said.
“The way I think about it is the HemCon was better than the plain gauze, [Combat Gauze] is better than the HemCon, and it can get incrementally better,” Baer said.
(Sarah Maxwell works at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Public Affairs Office.)