CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea -- The U.S. Army’s largest forward-deployed blood support unit is increasing its capabilities to further support Soldiers and joint forces on the Korean Peninsula.
Soldiers with the 95th Medical Detachment-Blood Support (95th MDBS) participated in training in December to work toward expanding the unit’s platelet collection role during armistice, or times of non-battle, as well as its existing wartime mission.
Platelets are one of three components in whole blood, serving as the clotting agent to help “stop the bleeding” when treating, for example, a battlefield injury.
“Studies have shown that the leading cause of death on the battlefield is hemorrhage,” said Maj. Chewanda Jones, commander of the 95th MDBS. “Platelets would be mostly likely used during trauma situations to control excessive bleeding. During any combat injury, providing immediate medical care is key.”
The 95th MDBS, which maintains the largest forward blood bank in the Department of Defense, is under the operational control of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Korea, a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command.
The training on Dec. 14, 2020, led by Sgt. 1st Class Marina Prewitt and Sgt. Kevin Hughes, included instruction on instrument operations, maintenance, prescreening procedures and the platelet donation process, using a process called apheresis.
"This training is vitally important in order to provide full spectrum blood support to the Korean peninsula,” Prewitt said. “To ensure ‘fight tonight’ readiness, we must ensure Soldiers are prepared to perform all mission essential tasks. Platelets have a short shelf life and establishing this program on the Korean peninsula will alleviate the need to use external support.”
Jones said adding this capability may eventually reduce reliance on the Korean Red Cross to supply platelets to U.S. hospitals.
“Having Soldiers trained and ready to perform this task ensures that Soldiers would be prepared and ready to collect this much-needed blood product,” Jones said.
The apheresis process for collecting platelets involves a specialized machine that removes whole blood from a donor. Once removed, the platelets are separated by centrifugation and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor.
Currently, platelet apheresis is only conducted during a transition to hostilities, Jones said. The 95th MDBS plans to add this collection to its armistice mission to potentially provide those platelet units to local medical treatment facilities.
“This training is the first step in a series of steps needed to receive Armed Services Blood Program approval and begin providing this blood product during the armistice mission,” she said.
Typically, platelets have a shelf life of only five or seven days. They are stored at room temperatures and require constant agitation. Because of this requirement, it has been more convenient to acquire this blood product from the Korean Red Cross.
However, thanks to a recent variance granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the unit can now collect apheresis platelets and store them at refrigerator temperature for 14 days with appropriate validation and training.
Additionally, being able to produce platelets for the local medical treatment facility in house would provide a yearly cost savings of about $31,000, according to Jones.
Jones said the unit’s training in December was one step in the process of working toward approval to collect and release apheresis platelets, which includes the collection of data and performing collection procedures multiple times. The entire process is expected to take about one year to complete.