Background: Blood transfusion persists as an important risk of open heart operations despite the recent introduction of a variety of new pharmacologic agents and blood conservation techniques as independent therapies. A comprehensive multimodality blood conservation program was developed to minimize this risk.
Study design: To provide a strategy for operating without transfusion, this program was prospectively applied to 50 adult patients who are Jehovah's Witnesses and have undergone open heart operation at our institution since 1992. The blood conservation program used for these patients included the use of high-dose erythropoietin (800 U/kg load, 500 U/kg every other day), aprotinin (6 million U total dose full Hammersmith regimen), "maximal" volume intraoperative autologous blood donation, intraoperative cell salvage, continuous shed blood reinfusion, and drawing as few blood specimens as possible.
Results: Procedures performed included first-time coronary bypass operations (n = 30) and more complex operations, including reoperations, valve replacements, and multiple valve replacements with or without coronary bypass (n = 20). Despite the absence of transfusion, the mean discharge hematocrit in these patients was greater than 30 percent, and there was no anemia-related mortality rate in this group. The overall in-hospital mortality for the group was 4 percent. A subset analysis was performed between the 30 first-time coronary bypass patients (group 1) and a control group of 30 consecutive patients who were not Jehovah's Witnesses but had undergone first-time coronary bypass during the same period (group 2). The blood conservation program described in the previous paragraph was not used in group 2 patients and specific transfusion criteria were prospectively applied. The chest tube output in group 1 patients was less than 40 percent of that for group 2 patients at all points measured after operation (p < 0.01). Postoperative hematocrit levels in group 1 were greater than those for group 2, despite the absence of red blood cell transfusion and despite a significantly lower admission hematocrit and red blood cell mass in group 1. The average length of stay and ancillary costs for the two groups were equivalent. Although group 1 and 2 patients were well matched for preoperative transfusion risk factors, none of the group 1 patients required transfusion, but 17 (57 percent) group 2 patients met transfusion criteria and received 3.0 +/- 4.8 U (mean plus or minus standard deviation) of homologous blood or blood products.
Conclusions: These results suggest that even complex open heart operations can be performed without homologous transfusion by optimally applying available blood conservation techniques. More generalized application of these measures may increasingly allow "bloodless" operations in all patients.