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NY becomes the last state to allow air ambulance blood transfusions

A Mercy Flight air ambulance in flight
Mercy Flight

Very sick or injured people are going to have a little better chance of survival under new state legislation allowing blood transfusions in air ambulance services. The law takes effect immediately.

New York was the last state with a ban on aerial transfusions in the choppers and planes that carry people in desperate need of care.

Think about being perhaps half-an-hour in the air on the way to the hospital and the crew has only a limited range of techniques and medicines because they can't give blood. That's now changed.

It will mean the air ambulances will require modest changes, to put refrigerators or some other cooler on board to store blood and there will be protocols to cover transfusions.

Dr. Kaori Tanaka is assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs Medical School and system medical director for Mercy Flight. Tanaka said blood can be desperately needed.

"Blood transfusions that would be started in the field would be best served for patients that we would categorize as in hemhorragic shock or having severe blood loss," she said, "and so your first kind of patient you could think of is somebody in severe trauma, in some kind of car accident or farming accident or even an accident at home where you accidentally cut something and you're bleeding."

Perhaps a third or more of the patients in those air flights needed blood and were forced to wait until reaching a hospital. State Sen. Patrick Gallivan said that's why he co-sponsored the legislation to end the ban on the transfusions.

“This is a common sense update to our public health law, which is long overdue,” Gallivan said. “Allowing medical flight crews and EMS providers to transport and administer blood in an emergency could be the difference between life and death, especially for people living in rural areas far from a hospital. I thank my colleagues in the Legislature for supporting it and the governor for signing it into law.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.