NEW YORK – Bleeding to death has been the number one cause of death among injured soldiers on the battlefield since the Civil War, but medical research is utilizing everything from shrimp shells to volcanic matter to clot wounds and save lives.
Several new products can halt hemorrhaging in mere seconds and are simple to use — qualities that the traditional bulky bandage and tourniquet combo lacks.
"When someone gets wounded, the battle doesn't stop, it rages on," said Bart Gullong, a partner in Z-Medica, a Newington, Conn.,-based company that manufactures the blood clotting product QuikClot. "People around the warrior may be pinned down and unable to get to them."
Once a wounded solider is removed from the field, modern medicine can usually save him, but what if he can't be transported in those precious first minutes?
"QuikClot brings the same ability a surgeon has to stop bleeding into the hands of anyone who can open a package," Gullong said.
Dr. Hasan B. Alam, an assistant professor of surgery at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., who has researched a variety of blood clotting materials, has found impressive results with QuikClot.
"It absorbs water out of the blood very efficiently and the stuff that's left behind very rapidly clots up," Alam said.
QuikClot is composed of tiny, porous zeolite particles that resemble "kitty litter," he said, and are commonly found in volcanic rock.
The Marine Corps considers QuikClot the cornerstone of its first aid kit, Gullong said. And Army medics carry the product, which was approved by the FDA in May 2002.
Another new life-saving, blood-clotting product fishes the sea for its active ingredient. The HemCon Inc. bandage utilizes chitosan, an absorbent shrimp-based material, to halt bleeding.
The bandage allows a soldier's wound to form a strong, adherent clot, enabling a patient to be transported, according to HemCon, the Portland, Ore.,-based manufacturer.
"Tests results have demonstrated that HemCon stops bleeding for trauma injuries like those experienced in battlefield conditions," Dr. Kenton Gregory, director of Oregon Medical Laser Center, which invented the bandage, said in a statement.
HemCon, which received FDA approval in November 2002, has generated interest among paramedics, veterinarians and emergency room medics. But for now, the folks on the frontlines take precedence.
"The first order of business is to fulfill the military orders, which they think will take most of the rest of the year," said Sue Van Brocklin, spokesperson for HemCon.
The company is working feverishly to fulfill its contract with the Department of Defense while the battle in Iraq rages on. And HemCon's 18 staffers are taking the task to heart, Van Brocklin emphasized.
"The employees are very dedicated and know that what they are doing could help save lives," she said. "They are working around the clock."
In a modern war, with precision-guided bombs and specially armed Humvees, these promising new products help solve a deadly problem that hasn't changed much in 150 years.
"In the Civil War, (about) 24 percent of all those killed in action bled to death on battlefield, in Vietnam, it was also (about) 24 percent," Gullong said.
Medicine has advanced tremendously, but on the battlefield, wounded soldiers often aren't able to get the quick medical attention they need. But with these new products, troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom don't need to have a medical degree to save lives on the battlefield.
"It's not the medic that will save the life, it will be a fellow soldier, or the soldier themselves who has to stop the bleeding," said Alam. "If you can control the bleeding rapidly enough, you can save soldiers."