Blood Transfusions: Saving Lives One Pint at a Time

Plastic bag  containing red blood cells in citrate, phosphate, dextrose, and adenine (CPDA) solution (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1667, the first blood transfusion into a human took place.

Here are some things you may not have known about the procedure.

The 1667 transfusion was performed by French physician Jean-Baptiste Denys. He transferred blood from a sheep into a 15-year-old boy. Later he also did the same procedure on an adult. Both patients survived, likely because of the small amount of blood transfused.

His third patient died as a result of the transfusion, as did another later that year, who received blood from a calf.

British physician Richard Lower was also experimenting with blood transfusions at the time. Lower’s experiments centered on the idea that blood exchange between species might transmit certain behavioral characteristics of the donor animal. is first experiment was on a mental patient. Lower believed that introducing the blood of a docile lamb might calm the agitated patient. The patient survived, but there were not beneficial effects of the procedure. The experiments with animal blood were eventually banned in Britain and France, and by the Vatican.

For the next 150 years, the idea of blood transfusions lay dormant.

In the early 19th century doctors began thinking that maybe, just maybe, blood transfusions might work if the donor and recipient are of the same species.

In 1818, Dr. James Blundell treated a case of postpartum hemorrhage using blood donated by the patient’s husband. Between 1825-30, Blundell performed the procedure 10 times with a 50 percent success rate. Part of the problem had been solved — human blood works better than animal blood — but there was still a factor that was unaccounted for that caused some patients to die following the procedure.

In 1901, Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian physician discovered the A, B and O blood types, which was followed by the later discovery of the AB blood type. Blood types refer to the classification of blood based on the presence or absence of antigens in red blood cells. When blood from people with incompatible blood types are mixed, it causes an immune response that caused the red blood cells to clump. The destruction of the red blood cells releases free hemoglobin into the bloodstream, which can kill the recipient of an unmatched transfusion.

For his discovery, Landsteiner earned the 1930 Nobel Prize in medicine.

In the early 20th century, blood transfusions were done by direct connection between donor and recipient. It was soon discovered that by adding an anticoagulant and refrigerating blood, it was possible to store blood for short periods of time. This allowed for blood banks to be used during World War I. The first blood bank to be known as such was established at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital in 1937.

Humans have four blood types, but other animal species have varying numbers of types. Cats have three types; cattle have 11, dogs have 12 and horses have 34.

Our question: What human blood types are known as the universal donor and the universal recipient?

Today is Global Wind Day, Engineer’s Day in Italy, and Arbor Day in Costa Rica.

It’s Justice for Janitors Day, National Lobster Day and Fly a Kite Day.

It’s the birthday of musician Waylon Jennings, who was born in 1937; poet Ana Castillo, who is 63 today; and actor Neil Patrick Harris, who turns 43.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 2011, the top song in the U.S. was “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele.

The No. 1 movie was “Super 8,” while, fittingly for our topic, the vampire novel “Dead Reckoning” by Charlaine Harris topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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