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The True Value of a Blood Bank Lives and Breathes

CJ the dogCJ was just a puppy when he was spotted crawling out of a ditch along a major highway. He had a broken hind leg and a fractured front leg, but the splintered bones healed well and Jenifer Lee-Gonyea adopted him. Unfortunately, the accident also tore his diaphragm. A tiny hole that went unnoticed for years, it eventually grew large enough to swallow several organs, including some of his intestine, and to stop the blood supply to these organs. When Lee-Gonyea brought the long, lanky Lab mix to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA), he was lethargic with gastrointestinal problems, and he was bleeding internally. He needed surgery, but his platelets and red blood cell counts were too low.

The low platelet count increased the risks associated with surgery because it causes uncontrolled bleeding. With his low red blood cell count, CJ’s blood was not carrying enough oxygen to his organs, putting him at risk for organ failure. The CUHA team stabilized CJ with a transfusion of fresh whole blood from a local donor and frequently hard-to-find platelet concentrate, which is stored in the Hospital’s on-site blood bank.

“He used every type of service and product our blood bank offers,” said Dr. Maureen Luschini, who was the attending doctor. “We could not have done the surgery without the blood products that we get from donors. These products are a precious commodity.”

To recover, CJ needed plasma and packed red blood cells, also available from the Hospital’s blood bank.

The Hospital’s blood bank, sponsored by Purina, Hills, and the College, is prepared to serve a wide variety of animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, pigs, goats, and cows. Different from traditional animal blood banks, Cornell’s donors are not residents of the hospital. Instead, participants are “on call,” brought into the Hospital as needed to donate a unit of blood. After the donation, the animals return home the same day.

“Cornell’s donors live happy, healthy, normal lives in homes with families,” said Ro Narbe, owner of Tessa and Dulcie who have been donors for three years. “Sometimes you’ll see a dark side of donor programs—when animals are kept in cages so that they available at any given moment. Cornell’s donors are not treated that way. It’s why I allow my dogs to participate.”

Tessa and Dulcie are both rescued greyhounds. According to Narbe, greyhounds are particularly good donors because they have a universal blood type. Narbe brings them to the Hospital every couple of months to update the blood supply as the shelf life of blood products is only about three months.
Donors are thoroughly typed and tested for infectious diseases, and the blood bank includes every possible blood product – from whole blood provided on-the-spot to plasma to packed red blood cells and platelet concentrate.

“Providing this service is key to the Hospital’s ability to successfully serve animals in critical condition,” said Dr. Nishi Dhupa, director of professional services at CUHA. “Many of our patients are in life-threatening situations and time is not on their side.”

©2010 Cornell University    Last Update March 6, 2009
College of Veterinary Medicine - Ithaca, New York 14853-6401
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