A little over a year ago, Dr. Moises Tenembaum, director of surgery at North Shore University Hospital in Forest Hills, was treating a patient who is a Jehovah’s Witness minister. When the patient was told that he would need a blood transfusion, Tenembaum had a startling revelation.
Practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses abstain from blood transfusions during surgery. Therefore, the group is compelled to seek medical care in New Jersey or Long Island, because Queens hospitals did not provide what is now known as bloodless surgery.
“It was surprising to me, but there was no hesitation on our part to correct it,” Dr. Tenembaum said. “We are a community-based hospital that is sensitive to all religions and cultures and we respect their needs and differences.”
Within a matter of months, Dr. Tenembaum and Dr. Michael Drew, chief of ambulatory surgery, launched the borough’s first bloodless surgery program. Similar programs are also available in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Through the first year of the program, hospital officials report that nearly 200 residents have been served by the program.
“We estimate that there are between 80,000 to 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the metropolitan area,” Dr. Tenembaum said. “It is important for them to know that North Shore University Hospital is prepared to respect their religious philosophy while providing the medical care they need.”
Through the program, a patient’s blood is drawn in advance and then used during the surgery if the patient experiences blood loss. The process eliminates the need for an outside transfusion.
The program employs state-of-the-art technological advances, such as the Cell Saver, which preserves the patient’s blood and returns it to the patient—similar to dialysis—during the surgical procedure; the Harmonic Scalpel, a vibrating laser that minimizes blood loss during surgery and Volume Expanders and Hemodiluters, liquids which help circulate a patient’s blood.
Hospital officials said the technologies and medications are complemented by minimally invasive surgical methods known to limit blood loss.
“Our hospital is rapidly expanding our ability to perform many types of laparoscopic surgeries,” Dr. Tenembaum said. “Not only is laparoscopy more cost effective and generally easier for the patient in terms of healing time and rehabilitation, but it controls the need for transfusions.”
According to North Shore University Hospital officials, in addition to religious beliefs, patients have been known to opt for bloodless surgery in order to reduce the risk of infection and of contracting blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV, as well as to prevent hemorrhaging and anemia.
Approximately eighty hospitals in the United States offer bloodless surgery, up from only a handful in 1990.