By Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan – Navy corpsmen anxiously waited for the blood flowing from Lance Cpl. Meng Lu’s arm to fill the bag near his feet.
Waiting in the next room was a dying Afghan National Army soldier. Lu’s blood would save his life.
Earlier Tuesday morning, May 8, the soldier stepped on a pressure plate while on patrol, setting off an improvised explosive device that nearly killed him.
The soldier would’ve died had it not been for the response of the Navy healthcare team at FOB Delaram II’s Shock Trauma Platoon and the generosity of Lu and three other blood donors.
The ANA soldier arrived with almost no blood left said Navy critical care nurse Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Boyer, STP assistant officer in charge. “We replaced essentially his whole blood volume.”
To do this replacement, Navy doctor Lt. William Goldenberg, STP medical director, said that immediately after receiving the injury notice, a call went out for volunteers from the STP’s walking blood bank program.
The walking blood bank is a list of pre-screened volunteers maintained by Navy corpsmen Petty Officer 2nd Class Kishaun Jeffers and Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Murray. They contact those with matching blood types when supplies run low.
“In the past, when a patient bled a lot, what we would give them was essentially warm sterile salt water to replace the blood they lost. This is still very common in civilian healthcare,” Boyer said. “But battlefield medicine has evolved and changed that.”
Boyer explained that over the past two wars, battlefield medical professionals significantly improved at treating injuries that cause massive amounts of bleeding. They discovered that people had a higher rate of survival by replacing blood with blood instead of saline solution.
“The mantra we use in military medicine now is ‘give them what they’re bleeding’,” said Boyer.
That is more difficult to accomplish when the patient has a rare blood type like the ANA solider.
In life-saving situations like this one, whole blood is used. Donated whole blood has to match the recipient’s type exactly, and it has to be warm – going right from the donor to the recipient. That’s where the walking blood bank comes in said Goldenberg.
When Lu arrived at the STP, he didn’t realize how urgent the ANA soldier needed the blood.
STP medics had to revive the solider three times. Not because of heart problems or any specific injury, but “because he didn’t have any blood left,” said Goldenberg.
Lu said he helped because he wanted to do the right thing.
“I just try to help other people out,” Lu said.
Lu, who is originally from Xi’an, China before moving to El Monte, Calif., has given blood a couple of times in the past, but says he never fully realized the impact of those donations. This time was different, he said.
The ANA solider suffered serious injuries to his arm and femur and may lose his leg, but doctors expect him to live thanks to the four donors.
“We say it all the time at blood drives, but today it is the absolute truth – these guys just saved this man’s life,” said Boyer.