Bloodless Surgery: An Operation Without Transfused Blood
BY KATIE CAVENDER
When Tim Hock found out he needed surgery, fear set in. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Tim’s beliefs prevent him from accepting a blood transfusion. With rectal cancer and several tumors on the liver, Tim and his wife, Gail Hock, began their research to find a surgical team up to the task. “We really hoped to find something close to our home and the support of our family and friends,” Gail says. “We were praying incessantly.”
That’s when they met Jeffrey Brodsky, MD, with LVPG Surgical Oncology and Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence. “As surgeons, we have to respect beliefs,” Brodsky says. “Most surgeons will not perform liver surgery on someone who does not accept blood. Liver resection can lead to a major intraoperative hemorrhage (bleeding) and many physicians are not comfortable proceeding without the possibility of transfusion.”
Brodsky was confident in his ability to remove Tim’s tumors in one surgery, relying on his experience and utilization of meticulous surgical techniques. “In the operating room, my technique is very anatomy-based and precise,” Brodsky says. “Many surgeons use a technique called blunt dissection, which tends to tear blood vessels and cause more bleeding.” After the first meeting with Brodsky, the couple knew they were in good hands. “He gave me the confidence he could do the surgery without blood,” Tim says.
Among the Jehovah’s Witness community, surgery without transfused blood is known as “bloodless surgery.” Although there is often some blood loss, blood is spared as much as possible, and the process to prepare for that begins before surgery. If someone is anemic, surgery may be delayed to optimize iron levels prior to the operation. “Days or weeks before surgery, a patient might go on iron, B-12 or a drug to increase the production of red cells,” Brodsky says.
Lehigh Valley Health Network Patient Blood Management team provided support every step of the way. It’s a program created just for people who wish to minimize or eliminate the use of transfused blood during a procedure. “From start to finish they worked to make sure there was a smooth path to having a successful surgery and recovery,” Tim says. The day of surgery, Kelly Frinzi with the Patient Blood Management Program was by their side. “She wasn't making decisions for us, but knowing she was there was comfort,” Gail says.
Although the Hocks were confident in Brodsky’s expertise and the support of the Patient Blood Management Program, Gail and Tim still worried that as Jehovah’s Witnesses they would be treated differently by the care team. However, they were met with understanding and kindness. “Everyone from the nurses to the cleaning staff were so respectful,” Gail says. “I said thank you to a lot of the nurses. I let them know how kind they were.”
During the operation, Brodsky successfully performed a surgery known for its potential blood loss – all without a drop of transfused blood. Just a few days later, Gail got to witness her husband taking a walk down the hospital hallway. It was a sight that made her take a step back and feel overcome with gratitude. “I couldn't believe it when I looked at him – that he went through that,” Gail says. “I'm so thankful Dr. Brodsky was able to do it.”
To learn more about bloodless surgery and blood sparing options, visit LVHN.org/PBM.