Bloodless Surgery Allows Religious Believers to Receive Medical Treatment

Perhaps you did not know that a Jehovah's Witness cannot accept a blood transfusion, even if it's a matter of life and death. Now a new technique has allowed a very young Jehovah's Witness to get a new liver without the need for a transfusion. Our health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay is here to tell us more.

In many life-saving surgeries, blood transfusions can be essential to success. Now the latest techniques in bloodless surgery are allowing more and more people to undergo some of the riskiest of surgeries without needing a transfusion.

The latest beneficiary of the bloodless technique is 7-month-old Aiden Michael Rush, who is recovering in Los Angeles after a liver transplant a little over 2 weeks ago at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. Aiden was born with an abnormality of his liver that was causing it to fail. His living grandmother donated part of her liver to baby Aiden to save his life.

And while Aiden is blissfully unaware of his brush with death, Aiden's mother Heather is thankful that her beliefs about transfusions did not have to prevent his surgery. "It worked out great, and we're so happy for Aiden and other kids," says mother Heather Rush. "We're gonna be able to use the same techniques for them now."

Both grandma and Aiden are doing fine, and their livers should regenerate in a matter of months.

How does the bloodless surgery technique work?

Doctors reuse the blood that is lost. Basically recycling it so that no new blood is needed. They also give a drug that boosts the production of red blood cells so that blood is replaced by the body quicker than normal. It's a technique that can be used in many surgeries that involve transfusion and will help many more people than just Jehovah's Witnesses avoid transfusion.

Is there a difference in risk in this kind of surgery between adults and children?

Children have less blood in circulation simply because they're smaller. Doctors have to make sure they lose as little as possible because they can't afford to lose as much as an adult.

This is not the first time that a Jehovah's Witness has refused medical treatment.

No. It's a common ethical dilemma. And a theme that has become the subject of prime-time drama in television shows like ABC's The Practice.

In that scenario, the woman in the show recovered from her accident before the issue of a transfusion became critical. Hopefully these new techniques will allow an easier way to resolve similar real-life dilemmas.

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