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New equipment at Camp Lemonnier improves blood storage

Hospital Corpsmen 2nd Class Andrew Kays (right) and Christi Greenwood (left), deployed with the Expeditionary Medical Facility at Camp Lemonnier, receive training on the Automated Cell Processor 215 while Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joshua Paddlety from Naval Hospital Sigonella, Italy, as part of implementation of the Frozen Blood Program here, March 13, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joe Rullo) Navy Hospital Corpsmen 2nd Class Andrew Kays (right) and Christi Greenwood (left), deployed with the Expeditionary Medical Facility at Camp Lemonnier, receive training on the Automated Cell Processor 215 while Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joshua Paddlety from Naval Hospital Sigonella, Italy, as part of implementation of the Frozen Blood Program here, March 13, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joe Rullo)

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CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — Many people have donated blood at one time or another to support their local community in a time of need. Service members see that same need during a mass casualty situation that may occur in a forward-deployed area.

Getting people to donate is only the first step in keeping a sufficient supply of blood on hand in case of an emergency. Storing donated blood poses its own unique challenges for medical treatment facilities in austere environments. The Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, is one of those facilities; until now.

EMF received new equipment March 15, 2019 as part of the Frozen Blood Program that will allow for the longer storage of red blood cells, significantly increasing the shelf life of blood on the base.

The new equipment, called Automated Cell Processor 215 (ACP 215), provides a safe way to freeze, thaw and wash red blood cells. Red cells are glycerolized, deglycerolized and washed in a closed disposable system and automatically re-suspended in additive solution to permit extended product storage post washing, according to Haemonetics Inc., the company that manufactures the equipment.

Blood that is collected and currently stored in medical refrigerators at EMF expires three to four weeks after collection. Frozen blood, which is stored at negative 70-degrees Celsius, can be used for up to 10 years.

The Officer in Charge of EMF at Camp Lemonnier, Navy Cmdr. Edward H. Owens, said the technology will significantly enhance EMF's mission capability as the sole U.S. Role-2-Plus medical facility on the African continent.

“I think we all know and appreciate the benefits blood products bring to the overall survival of patients in need,” Owens said. “But we may not fully understand the logistical challenges that exist in shipping liquid blood, as well as the amount of effort that goes into maintaining a Walking Blood Program. Having this technology will lesson those logistical challenges and reduce our required levels of liquid blood.”

As a Role-2-Plus facility, EMF is able to perform routine hematology, chemistry and urinalysis as well as a battery of point-of-care tests for infection and tropical diseases such as Malaria and Dengue fever.

The Walking Blood Program is used military-wide to identify and screen qualified blood donors to provide fresh whole blood for wounded service members.

Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Christi Greenwood, an EMF lab technician, said the medical facility at Camp Lemonnier receives its frozen blood units from the Armed Services Blood Bank Center, Europe, since locally there isn’t a way to freeze collected units.

“Donated blood is separated into the component red blood cells and plasma,” Greenwood said.” The red blood cells are then mixed with glycerol and frozen prior to shipment.”

The ACP 215 is used to reconstitute the red blood cell. It takes approximately two hours to thaw and process the blood so it is ready for use.

Prior to the equipment arriving, EMF was not able to reconstitute frozen blood; therefore, fresh blood was the only option available.

EMF lab technician Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Andrew Kays said while the new Frozen Blood Program doesn’t replace the need for chilled blood entirely, it offers the ability to store hundreds of units locally.

“We are able to provide a more reliable blood source for emergencies, drastically reducing the waste of blood products,” said Kays. “We are very excited to help bring this capability to our patients.”

Kays said a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Program (CLIP) certification was performed prior to going live with the new program. This certification is similar to civilian programs that maintain and monitor quality standards for hospitals and independent laboratories.

“Attainment of CLIP certification is a major milestone for EMF as we strive to provide world-class care to Camp Lemonnier and its tenant commands,” Kays said.

Owens said being able to provide the kind of care this new equipment covers will significantly enhance EMF’s mission.

“Having this capability will enable us to partner with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Surgeon Cell to support warfighters down range," Owens said.

Camp Lemonnier is an operationally-focused shore installation that enables U.S., allied and partner nation forces to be where and when they are needed to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.

The mission of Camp Lemonnier is to enable joint warfighters operating forward and to reinforce the relationship between the United States and Djibouti by conducting five key shore missions – air operations, port operations, security, safety and quality of life – and providing core mission enablers such as fuel, water and power for tenant commands, transient U.S. assets and individual service members.

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