A Surgical Patient's Transfusion Survival Guide: Long-Overdue Advice on How to Avoid the Risk of "Potluck" Blood Should the Need for a Transfusion Arise

By Crenshaw, Theresa L. | The Saturday Evening Post, March 1989 | Go to article overview

A Surgical Patient's Transfusion Survival Guide: Long-Overdue Advice on How to Avoid the Risk of "Potluck" Blood Should the Need for a Transfusion Arise


Crenshaw, Theresa L., The Saturday Evening Post


Long-overdue advice on how to avoid the risk of "potluck" blood should the need for a transfusion arise.

Monty Kobey of San Diwas transfused with HIV-infected blood in 1984. Officials at both the Alvarado Hospital Medical Center and the San Diego Blood Bank, according to Kobey and his wife, knew he received contaminated blood in early 1987, but didn't tell him until it was too late. Two days after Kobey was hospitalized for a "mysterious brain infection," and six months after Alvarado Hospital was aware of the tainted blood, Kobey was informed. The Kobeys believe that perhaps, had he known sooner, his state of confusion and mental disability could have been diagnosed earlier and treated before irreversible complications set in. Adding to the tragedy is their knowledge that if transfusion alternatives had been used, his whole ordeal might have been avoided. The banked blood he received was probably unnecessary. Monty Kobey and his wife are suing Alvarado Hospital Medical Center and the San Diego Blood Bank.

Tragically, Kobey's story is one that should never have to be told. Yet, his is not the only such case. Unsuspecting patients are still unnecessarily receiving homologous banked-blood transfusions throughout the nation.

The purpose of this article is to help you protect yourself from getting an HIV infection by avoiding unnecessary transfusions and knowing the right kind of transfusion to get if you must have one.

Protection begins with knowledge about the alternatives.

Although most people who receive AIDS-infected blood become infected, blood banks have been slow to notify those who might be infected and even slower to take their partners into consideration.

Fear of stimulating litigation encourages blood banks to avoid notifying those who may have been infected. One source, who insisted on remaining anonymous, said"They are going to die soon anyway. If we wait long enough, they won't be able to sue us. Why create problems?"

According to the July 27, 1988, issue of AIDS Policy and Law, the Oklahoma Blood Institute and a doctor at St, Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City are being sued by a woman who allegedly received HIV-infected blood in 1986. The suit Spiegel v. Fisher alleges that the plaintiff was infected from a transfusion received during heart surgery. As anticipated, the worst fears of the blood-banking industry are coming true. In 1987, the patient was notified during a lookback program. This knowledge enabled her to initiate the suit. In addition, this is the first case on record claiming that failure to use Intraoperative Autologous Transfusion (IAT) is a factor in litigation.

Some responsible institutions are performing lookback programs and coping responsibly with the consequences. The majority are not, leaving thousands of transfusion recipients and their sexual partners in the dark about their infections.

One woman had sex with her husband only five times after his transfusion, but she still became infected.

However, as a result of litigation, the neglect of sexual partners of transfusion recipients who are infected or at risk may soon come to an end.

A Denver jury recently ordered infectious disease specialist Donald Kerns, M.D., to pay Suzie Quintana $70,000 in damages "for failure to describe precautions Quintana could take to prevent exposing her husband to infection." (American Medical News, June 17, 1988.) She was a transfusion recipient.

Meanwhile, blood banks say hospitals should take the responsibility of notifying the sexual partners of transfusion recipients. Hospitals want physicians to do it. Physicians point to public health authorities. And some public health authorities oppose laws requiring contact tracing.

Therefore, you need to take it upon yourself to get tested if you have any doubt at all. The reason: should you be infected, time is of the essence in starting a program to protect your immune system and prevent the onset of AIDS-related symptoms-and you also want to protect your partner. …

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