Richmond ambulances to carry plasma – a first for the nation

Posted at 1:24 AM, May 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 01:24:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) --Richmond is one of three cities to be a part of a revolutionary medical trial that could save lives and change the way ambulance and combat medics hustle to rescue trauma patients.

“We are going to be one of three cities to administer freshly-thawed plasma to patients in the field,” explained Rob Lawrence, Chief Operating Officer of Richmond Ambulance Authority. “This is something not done in the US outside of the hospital.”

As most TV and movie watchers know, ambulance medics have long started IV lines for saline solutions. But not any actual blood.

This is critical because the platelets in blood – or blood products like plasma - slows bleeding, along with other benefits.

Dr. Joseph Ornato, the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Operational Medical Director of RAA, said this is crucial because serious bleeding and head trauma are the two big risk factors in serious accidents and injuries, affecting “tens of thousands of Americans every year . . . and this project is really targeted at the bleeding-to-death component of the problem.”

This extensive trial, funded by the Department of Defense, will be in Richmond, Pittsburgh and Denver, cities known for top-notch EMS and trauma systems, as well as strong partnerships with local hospitals.

So why hasn’t this been done before? The simple explanation is blood products are always in limited supply and only last so long once thawed. This system will put the plasma in refrigerators in  supervisors’ ambulances.

Once it’s out for X amount of time, it’s brought in and used at the  hospital, where it is always in demand. The hospital can stock the ambulances from their freezers. There is also new technology in dehydrating plasma until it’s ready for use.

Ornato said this general idea is borrowed from field medicine during WWII, when “transfusions were given from other soldiers who weren’t injured.” With the onset of blood banks about 60 years ago, the practice faded into the past.

“More recently, we’re discovering maybe that initial approach may have actually had some merit,” he said.

With RAA’s record of fast response times – at your emergency in an average of about 8 minutes from the moment of the 911 call, and often much faster – means lifesaving blood can be piped into your systems quickly, well before you’d get it at the hospital.

For more information about this program, go to