Doctor donates own blood in midst of surgery

A New York surgeon volunteering in Central America took an uncommon step to make sure his patient made it through an operation.

By Damon Adams — Posted June 19, 2006

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Heart surgeon Samuel Weinstein, MD, already was offering his time and talent on a medical mission to El Salvador. So when his patient needed blood, he didn't hesitate to share his own.

In the middle of surgery on an 8-year-old boy, blood supplies ran out, and Dr. Weinstein stopped his operation to donate what the boy needed -- B-negative blood.

"I scrubbed out, donated a unit and brought it back to the OR myself," said Dr. Weinstein, head of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

He ate a blueberry Pop-Tart, then went back to work. The operation was a success and the boy was later released.

"His mother was very happy with me and I got a nice big hug after the surgery," he said. "She asked me if I thought [her son] would now want to grow up and be a doctor."

Dr. Weinstein was performing the surgery at a San Salvador hospital as part of his volunteer trip with Heart Care International, an organization that brings together health care professionals to provide care to children in developing countries.

The May 11 surgery to replace the boy's aortic valve started at 11 a.m. and was going well until the midway point. The surgical team had several units of B-negative on hand before the operation, but the blood clotting medicine the hospital had wasn't doing its job.

"We were running out of blood," Dr. Weinstein said. "You're kind of standing there watching a hole in the dike and you want to put something in it."

With no other B-negative blood available, Dr. Weinstein stopped the procedure and offered his left arm for blood.

"I feel anybody on the team would have been happy to give a unit. It happened that I was the only one who matched."

Dr. Weinstein doesn't like to take much credit for his gift. He'd rather give it to the nurses and rest of his surgical team who worked on the 12-hour surgery.

The American Medical Association said it was unaware of a similar blood donation by a surgeon during an operation.

Dr. Weinstein said he merely did what was necessary for his patient. He plans to visit and check up on the boy when he returns to El Salvador in the fall.

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