'Bloodless surgery' gains more adherents

Tulsa World/May 15, 2007
By Kim Archer

More hospitals across the country have begun "bloodless surgery" programs, typically in an effort to fulfill the needs of Jehovah's Witnesses, said Dr. Nicolas Jabbour, who started Oklahoma's first hospital-based pro- gram at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

"Most patients are Jehovah's Witness patients, but the public in general is becoming more aware and informed about bloodless surgery," he said.

In bloodless surgery, the patient does not receive a transfusion of allogeneic blood -- that which is donated from a blood bank.

Jabbour said he became interested in bloodless medicine a decade ago at the University of Southern California and began to study ways to minimize blood transfusions.

He was part of the university's team that performed the world's first bloodless, live-donor liver transplant in a Jehovah's Witness in 1999.

He has performed 30 bloodless liver transplants with 100 percent success, he said.

"There are a lot of studies that show that using less blood or no blood can be better for the patient," he said.

Because blood is an immunosuppressant, the transfusion of donated blood raises the risk of infection and might increase the risk of tumor recurrences in cancer patients, he said.

However, Jabbour emphasizes that people should not fear blood transfusions.

"This does not mean that blood is bad. It saves millions of people's lives every day," he said. "Overall, it is a very safe product, but it is not 100 percent safe."

Jabbour's interest in bloodless surgery has been driven more by the fact that blood often is in short supply and can be expensive.

"Blood is a precious, finite product. People shouldn't think it is plentiful, cheap or doesn't present some risk," he said.

Elective surgeries often are canceled because of the shortage of blood, he said.

Alternatives to blood transfusions are necessary to avert problems resulting from shortages or to appease patients who for religious or personal reasons do not want transfusions, Jabbour said.

"Bloodless medicine is not just a marketing tool," he said.

"It not only helps the Jehovah's Witness community, but it may impact overall blood conservation."

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