Despite the risks, cardiac surgery patients are often given a transfusion of red blood cells post-surgery to prevent anemia if tests indicate the need for it. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, this hasn’t been an option due to the belief that the Bible forbids them from accepting blood. Because of this, surgeons need to take other actions prior to surgery, such as administering the hormone erythropoietin, B complex vitamins and iron to ensure healthy blood levels during surgery.
According to new research, these simple precautions seem to be working.
A study of heart surgery patients found that the risk of dying was the same among 322 Jehovah's Witnesses who did not receive blood transfusions and 322 patients who did. In addition, those without transfusions had lower risks of additional surgeries, heart attack, kidney failure and blood infection than the others.
"The current management strategy ... does not appear to place patients at increased risk, and actually some of the complications are fewer," said Dr. Colleen Koch, a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
According to the report, published July 2 in Archives of Internal Medicine, the Jehovah's Witness patients also spent less time in intensive care and went home sooner than the patients who had transfusions.
Medical experts welcomed the results of the study. With blood supplies becoming increasingly strained and as surgeries for the aging Baby Boomer generation are likely to add to the shortage, the findings may have relevance outside of the religious population. The study, “behooves us to examine more closely some Jehovah's Witness processes of care and implement them in our routine surgeries," Koch said.
Adds Victor Ferraris, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal, "If you can operate on all these Jehovah's Witnesses and do it safely and have comparable outcomes without transfusing, then why not do it in everybody?"