AUSTIN (KXAN) — Within the first 48 hours of an additional life-saving tool at Austin-Travis County EMS’ fingertips, medics rushed to a call about a patient with a gunshot wound.

They were able to give that patient a blood transfusion thanks to a reserve they had in their vehicle.

“That patient had a good outcome from the use of that blood,” said Captain Christa Stedman, ATCEMS Deputy Public Information Officer. “We can say for certain that for every patient we’ve administered it to, it had a very positive effect on their outcome and some of those were even life-saving.”

A command truck, ATCEMS’ designated medical officer and some of the department’s physicians are equipped with whole blood in the event they need to do a blood transfusion while transporting a patient to the hospital.

The near two-month pilot program that made that possible launched in Dec. 2021. Since then, they’ve successfully helped seven people “to the point where the blood administration allowed us to get that patient from the scene to the hospital and directly into the operating room — still alive and viable to be operated on — which is awesome,” said Captain Stedman.

Medics are using the blood 80% of the time on patients who have trauma, such as people who have multiple broken bones, internal bleeding, gunshot or stab wounds.

“Anything where there’s a large amount of blood loss,” said Stedman. And 20% on patients with other medical conditions that led to profound volume loss.

The Future

What’s in the future of ATCEMS’ reserve?

“We would put blood on every single ambulance,” said Stedman. “If we had all of the funding that could buy all of the equipment…and they would have multiple units and easy ways to restock it…and at least one provider per truck that could administer blood.”

A big focus of making that happen in the short term is looking at making the blood they do have available all throughout the entire Travis County area.

Captain David LeClere, of Austin-Travis County EMS, who is overseeing this program alongside Office of the Chief Medical Officer deputy medical director Dr. Heidi Abraham, are looking at heat maps of calls medics are responding to.

“We want to make sure we’re being equitable in the distribution of this incredibly valuable resource,” said Abraham. “We’re hoping to have it on every ATCEMS district command vehicle by this summer.”

“Where we can look at maps and look at the data of the call types that are happening in different areas around the city and county so that we have a more equitable deployment of blood,” said Stedman.

They’re also focusing on how they can get more equipment ordered and training more medics on how to administer the blood.

ATCEMS is staffed with 560 sworn medics, as of the time of this report. At any given time of day, there will be about 100 medics working across Austin-Travis County.

“Everything is growing. The city, the county, the department, our capabilities, we’re all growing,” said Stedman. “Our medics have been on the front lines of a pandemic for almost two years, and still manage to provide exceptional emergency medical care to each patient. The blood program only helps us go above and beyond, and we need to add more clinicians to keep doing that.”

ATCEMS is looking to hire cadets for their July academy. Applications close Feb. 28.

We Are Blood and ATCEMS’ partnership

ATCEMS relies on its partnership with We Are Blood, which is Central Texas’ blood bank, to keep its supply stocked.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without them because they’re the ones that are going and getting the donations and storing it and restocking us when we’re either using it or there’s a schedule where we shuffle things around so it doesn’t go to waste,” said Captain Stedman.

In the same way, We Are Blood is relying on their community partnerships to keep donations flowing as demand due to a number of factors continues to create a shortage.

More people moving to the area, an increase in need from new health care programs and higher demand for blood due to traumatic injuries in Central Texas have put a strain on We Are Blood’s supply.

In December alone, 600 more donations were requested from We Are Blood than the standard amount per month.

The omicron variant has also forced cancelations for mobile blood drives that were already scheduled. In particular, Canedo says when COVID-19 cases and exposures spiraled forcing a school district to close, they had to cancel a blood drive that the organization was counting on to add to their supply.

Other companies who anticipated hosting mobile blood drives also had to cancel due to COVID-19 concerns.

Thankfully, ATCEMS is hosting a blood drive Monday at their headquarters located at 15 Waller Street. Anyone who donates will get a coupon for free lunch from ThunderCloud.

“Any time you have the opportunity to impact the life of a stranger, you should do that,” said Stedman. “Blood really is a life-saving intervention that we do and we can’t do it without the help of the public, we have to have those donations, otherwise we are blood can’t store it for us to use, or for the hospitals to use.”

Canedo says We Are Blood is also exploring the possibility of expanding hours and is looking forward to adding a donor center in Cedar Park. The anticipated opening for that is April.

Later in 2022, Canedo says leaders are hoping to expand the donor center located on Slaughter Lane in South Austin.

Blood Donation FAQs

You can donate blood if you have received a COVID or flu vaccine or a booster and you feel well. There is no waiting period between when you last received a shot and when you can donate.

If you are COVID-19 positive, wait 14 days until donating.

If you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, wait to donate as well for 14 days.

Face masks are required at any We Are Blood mobile drive and at their donation centers.