A bloodless victory


WHERE TO CALL
Kennedy Health System offers blood conservation and bloodless surgery for people who refuse blood transfusions for religious or other reasons. Call Jo Valenti at (856) 346-7210 for more information.

A bloodless victory
Several hospitals offer surgery without blood transfusions, which is in demand by Jehovah’s Witnesses

Several hospitals offer surgery without blood transfusions, which is in demand by Jehovah’s Witnesses

Paul Schade operates the presses at the Burlington County Times, but the 53-year-old knows more about alternatives to blood transfusions than some doctors.

A Jehovah’s Witness, Schade is a volunteer for the faith’s hospital liaison committee covering South Jersey and the Philadelphia region. His job is to help fellow Witnesses find appropriate medical treatment without having to use donated blood.

Jehovah’s Witnesses cite certain biblical passages which they say prohibit the use of blood. They will seek medical treatment when ill, but refuse blood transfusions and the use of blood products.

Twenty years ago, that was hard for a Witness to do. But advancements in medicine, a federal informed consent law and an increasing number of hospitals offering “bloodless care” have changed how Witnesses are treated.

Several hospitals in Pennsylvania and Cooper University Hospital in Camden offer bloodless care to patients who request it. As of January, Kennedy Health System is offering it, too.

That’s encouraging news, according to Schade. He recently helped a patient with sickle cell anemia deal with a New Jersey hospital that was pushing a blood transfusion rather than trying to find another treatment.

“Bloodless care is not only good for Jehovah Witnesses,” said Schade, “it’s good for everybody. The bloodless care hospitals are used by the Witnesses, but not exclusively. Lots of people who have been educated about the dangers of blood go, too.”

Jo Valenti, a registered nurse and a Jehovah’s Witness, was hired by Kennedy last summer to develop its bloodless care program and a blood conservation policy. Years ago, she said, when Witnesses needed medical treatment, they would have to seek out a doctor willing to treat them, only to encounter trouble with the anesthesiologist.

“Hospital systems weren’t really designed to address bloodless care, so it was difficult,” said Valenti.

In the 1950s, a Texas heart surgeon developed a method of open heart surgery that didn’t require blood transfusions. He called it “bloodless surgery,” and the trend advanced from there.

In 1991, a federal law was passed allowing adult patients to refuse treatment, which meant hospitals and doctors could no longer override the wishes of patients.

While the blood supply is the safest it ever has been, according to Valenti, some people who are not Witnesses still have concerns about using donated blood.

Kennedy also is conserving its blood resources by using certain strategies to cut down or eliminate the amount of donated blood needed for many surgeries. Patients have better outcomes when blood conservation techniques are used, said Valenti.

“We want our patients to know that we’re using blood so wisely that their chance of getting a transfusion here will be much less than at other hospitals,” said Valenti.

Schade compared his faith’s objection to blood transfusions to Catholics’ objections to abortion or Jews’ objections to eating pork. It’s a moral stand that has become increasingly tolerated by the medical community.

“The doctors are a lot more cooperative and, of course, bloodless-care hospitals are a lot more cooperative,” he said. “We’ve made a lot more advances because of it.”

Keeping the Faith looks at religion and spirituality in South Jersey. The column appears on Saturdays. Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 251-3342 or kmulfordat courierpostonline.com.


MARCIN SZCZEPANSKI/Courier-Post
Jo Valenti (center) talks shop with fellow nurses Susan Arnold (left) and Laurie Pierce at Kennedy Health System in Voorhees. Valenti is a Jehovah’s Witness who developed Kennedy’s bloodless care program.


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