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    Navy Corpsmen Help Keep Life-Saving Blood Products Flowing

    Navy Corpsmen Help Keep Life-Saving Blood Products Flowing

    Photo By Douglas Stutz | a reflection of service before self… Hospitalman Jia Li Chen, along with other Navy...... read more read more

    For a few Sailors assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton, their duty is away from a nautical setting.

    Their crucial responsibility is conducted in a tri-service environment marked with ‘tank crossing’ signs and echoes of artillery practice in the near distance.

    Yet inside a non-descript structure on Joint Base Lewis McCord, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Aaron Lake, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Roberka Joseph, and Hospitalmen Jia Li Chen and Edward Yelland help support a vital need throughout the world to keep others alive.

    The four are U.S. Navy medical laboratory technicians working at the Armed Services Blood Bank Center-Pacific Northwest.

    “This blood donor center sends blood products to 210 military treatment facilities (MTF) and provides blood products to six combat theaters. We identify the needs, make the appropriate needed products and send off. We have [approximately] a 24-hour turnaround time. The goal is always to get blood products to those who need it in the fastest manner possible,” said Lake, leading petty officer, and Washington native who grew up in the area and has worked at the center for approximately five years.

    Compiled statistics show that approximately one in seven people who enter a hospital like NHB will need blood. That’s stateside-relevant data however, and not applicable to the recent past where blood products were in constant demand at forward operating bases, combat outposts and trauma team settings throughout Afghanistan.

    Blood products collected by the center are still distributed world-wide to provide support from deployed troops overseas to veterans and their families at home.

    “A unit of whole blood can potentially be made into different products. Each of these products is used for a different purpose. We help determine what is needed with the facilities that we send blood to as well as the theater(s) of operation. The fresher the blood the better the results,” stated Lake.

    One pint - or unit - of donated blood can not only save up to three lives, but can also be separated into multiple, vital components of red blood cells, plasma, platelets, and cryoprecipitate. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues. Plasma is a mixture of water, protein and salts and make up approximately 55 percent of the actual blood volume in the human body. Platelets help promote blood clotting, and cryoprecipitate, which is collected from plasma that has been frozen, then thawed, is a crucial coagulation agent.

    As demanding as it can be to ensure all blood products are sent in an expedient manner for timely use, Lake attests that’s really only part of their daily concern.

    “The challenging part of blood collection is always needing donors. Our blood products range in expiration dates of 21 days to 42 days,” explained Lake. “A donor can only give every eight weeks/56 days. Blood products can expire long before our donors are able to come back. That’s why we’re always in that struggle to resupply. A lot of times you’ll hear about a natural disaster and people are asked to donate. Ideally we need product on the shelf ready to go when that disaster hits. Not after the fact.”

    Towards that end, there’s a mobile team which screens for and collects blood which is then brought back to the center for processing. The mobile teams travels across the entire Pacific Northwest, from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., even colleges that have Reserve Officer Training Corps programs.

    According to Lake, over 10,000 blood products were shipped last year.

    “That was a slow year,” admitted Lake. “Usually we collect from 400 to 500 donors every month, but realistically we’d like to double that. We try to schedule between three to four blood drives a week. It gets difficult during the holiday months to get donors with everyone busy and units have their own training. So it’s hard to prioritize us and our mission.”

    Training is also being provided to Army and Navy operational commands to have their own walking blood bank, if and when needed. A walking blood bank is based on urgency, where blood can be timely drawn from those already pre-tested and designated as a ‘walking’ donor pool if suddenly required in responding to any medcially-related emergency with wounded personnel in need of blood.

    “Right now, we have a hospital corpsman off USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) who is being trained in all the different administration procedures that he needs, such as how to apply blood product testing and everything else to help establish a walking blood bank on the Roosevelt prior to whenever they head out to sea or on deployment. If blood is needed, there will be a functional standard operating procedure in place with a list of pre-screened personnel,” said Lake.

    “It’s just about ensuring we get the life-saving blood product that’s going to make a direct impact to keep people alive,” added Lake.

    The donor center duty has also become a professional proving ground for the Navy medical laboratory technicians. Chen has taken over responsibility as lead technician for the evening shift.

    “It’s not her rank that dictates but her ability. She has shown herself to be very knowledgeable and a dedicated teammate since she got here. She has shown to have the capabilities displayed by her more senior petty officer and civilian counterparts,” commented Lake.

    Chen’s shift has the processing team handling such tasks as taking donor information, screening information, and collection information to laboriously entering it into a central data base as well as make the blood products based on current inventory in Department of Defense and Defense Health Agency.

    “The database gets cross referenced to all donor centers in Department of Defense. We can tell, for example, if someone donated in Landstuhl [Regional Medical Center], Germany but had a malignant cancer which gets flagged for being infectious. Then they come here to donor and their history will pop up,” Lake said.

    The blood donor center has also been impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Donation efforts have slowed at the center itself and with the mobile teams.

    “COVID made it especially challenging. A lot of our donor population are older and the travel limits and unease made it really difficult for them. And us. We want to always make sure everyone is safe. That created unique challenges. Restrictions on donors were much more intense because we want to give the best blood possible,” noted Lake.

    For those wishing to donate blood, an appointment, can be made by calling 253-968-1850. Hours of operations are Monday through Friday, 8:40 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

    They are always ready to assist fellow service men and women and will continue to collect, screen and process valuable blood products to support those in need across the globe.



    Date Taken: 12.08.2021
    Date Posted: 12.08.2021 10:30
    Story ID: 410714
    Location: TACOMA, WA, US

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