AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Travis County EMS medics are answering calls to save lives daily, and thanks to a new pilot program, they’re adding another resource to two of their response vehicles: whole blood.

The program is made possible due to efforts between ATCEMS, Austin-Travis County’s Office of the Chief Medical Officer, We Are Blood — which is central Texas’ blood bank– and the Capital Area Trauma Regional Advisory Council.

Those medics will now be able to do blood transfusions while out in the field before a patient arrives at a hospital.

“By administering blood products at the patient’s side, closer to the time of injury, we’re giving these patients a much better chance of survival and recovery,” said Deputy Medical Director Heidi Abraham.

Though leaders have been working on rolling out the pilot for years, We Are Blood Vice President of Community Engagement Nick Canedo says the urgency rose because of the number of traffic crashes and murders in the Austin area.

 “We have a large gap in our ability to intervene appropriately in a timely manner in that very specific patient population,” says Captain David LeClere of Austin-Travis County EMS. He’s been with the department for more than 13 years and is now overseeing the pilot’s rollout. “We’re being very good at stopping blood from coming out of a person’s body, but right now we don’t have a good way to expand their volume again and get them oxygen-carrying abilities and bring those clotting abilities back to their body.”

The goal is to make blood available to patients as close to their time of injury as possible.

To accomplish that, ATCEMS’ medical officer and district commander vehicles will carry Low Titer, O+ blood. Type O blood is a universal type of blood that can be given to anyone, regardless of the recipient’s blood type, and the blood will have minimal antibodies.

The advanced practice paramedics who will be equipped with this blood, which serves the areas of South 1st Street and Ben White Boulevard and I-35 and Highway 290, have gone through specialized training.

“It’s not only for trauma patients either,” says Captain LeClere. “We all think about the car wrecks, the shootings, the stabbings, the falls and stuff like that but we also have the capability to treat someone that is a non-compressible bleed from ulcers or an OB patient that has a lot of post-partum hemorrhage.”

“My hope is that we learn from this and see where we can touch more patients with this resource and improve their quality of life and survivability after experiencing the worst day of their life,” he says.

LeClere is also hoping this will add a boost to his team who has fought the good fight during the pandemic.

“I hope the providers that are here answer that call in a way that invigorates them to be passionate again at a different level and embrace the change and the direction that pre-hospital medicine is going and I have no doubt that they’ll rise up to the challenge and exceed all of our expectations,” says LeClere.

There is no end date for the pilot just yet, but ATCEMS is working to make the blood available equally across the Austin-Travis County area.

“I want to drive home that this is a service. We come out here to serve and improve people’s lives. We want to improve their safety. These are core values for us. This is a big initiative and I appreciate the dedication that the department has to that mission. To the residents of Austin-Travis County, this is for you and this is why we’re here, to answer that call and be these people for you.”

“This is all about the people and being able to pivot as we have to find a way to achieve an unmet need is very humbling and I feel very blessed to be a part of it.”

Captain David LeClere, Austin-Travis County EMS

Are other central Texas EMS agencies equipped?

Canedo tells KXAN they are in conversations with four other EMS agencies in the central Texas area to equip their vehicles with whole blood. ATCEMS has been the sole department to finalize the agreement to date.

A huge part of the agreement is the concern to keep the blood stored properly.

ATCEMS will keep the blood in specialized commercial coolers the department purchased that will be kept between one and six degrees Celsius. The department along with We Are Blood work together to maintain those specific storage requirements as outlined by the FDA.

If the blood is not used by ATCEMS medics within seven days, it will be returned to We Are Blood and given to local hospitals.

A spokesman for Acadian Ambulance in Texas says they are hoping to put a similar program into effect in Bastrop. A start date for that is still in progress.

Austin-Travis County’s STAR Flight, which is the area’s helicopter ambulance service, has an agreement with We Are Blood that allows them to have plasma and red blood cells stored at their headquarters at all times and is used as needed when they respond to calls.

Blood donations, in general, are also always needed, but Canedo adds that there is a rising need this year for central Texas. He says an additional 4,600 blood donations have been needed this year, compared to last year.

For perspective, the blood bank usually tries to collect about 4,000 donations per month to keep up with the need.

You can book an appointment to donate with We Are Blood here.