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News | May 17, 2022

U.S. military, Honduran Red Cross save lives through local blood drives

By Maria Pinel Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A Honduran woman received life-saving assistance from U.S. military blood donors stationed at Soto Cano Air Base following medical personnel’s quick activation of a walking blood bank program last month.

The woman, a young doctor, was pregnant and suffering of dengue hemorrhagic fever, severe anemia, and circulatory collapse. She urgently needed a blood transfusion of type O- blood.

“We received a call about 8 weeks ago from the Honduran Red Cross and they said, ‘we have this young woman with dengue hemorrhagic fever, she is bleeding and if she doesn’t get blood within a few hours she is going to die,” recalled U.S. Army Col. Mitchell Meyers, Joint Task Force-Bravo command surgeon.

A joint effort between the JTF-Bravo Medical Element and the Honduran Red Cross made the quick transfusion possible, thanks to an ongoing initiative of periodic blood drives held at Soto Cano Air Base, the most recent and largest one to date held on 13 May.

With a fully equipped clinic among its many capabilities, the Medical Element (or MEDEL) receives emergency blood requests from local hospitals and the Honduran Red Cross. Through the longstanding friendship and partnership between MEDEL and local counterparts, the task force can conduct blood drives on base, giving them an opportunity to recruit donors for the Soto Cano AB walking blood bank.

“These campaigns strengthen our primary mission which is to save lives and we are grateful for the support we have received for the National Blood Bank,” said Julia Castrillo Arita, Vice-President of Region 2, Honduran Red Cross. “We have conducted four blood drives, and this allows us to keep saving Honduran lives.”

Because of this initiative, donors of type O- blood had been prescreened and JTF-Bravo was able to rapidly activate the walking blood bank to assist.

“They didn’t hesitate to come in and allow some blood to be taken to help save the woman and her baby,” said Meyers. “Most folks don’t know what happens to the blood when they donate, but in this case, we know specifically that if she and her baby had not received that blood they would have died,” said Meyers.

Castrillo stated that in her 27-year experience as a Red Cross volunteer, most locals are not open to donating blood due to misconceptions around the consequences, as she encouraged everyone who can to cooperate.

“We are very grateful to Joint Task Force-Bravo, especially for the opportunity we’ve had with Col. Meyers and these blood drives. They have helped a lot in supplying for the blood bank and we have always had great support from the U.S. military, who also serve as an example to motivate the population to donate blood,” said Castrillo.

When time is crucial, these walking blood banks save lives, but they are also important to U.S. military readiness. In the event of a mass casualty event, response to trauma victims or emergency deployment of the surgical section, the MEDEL would be able to pull from their pool of identified donors and would be able to make the needed transfusions quickly, demonstrating the Task Force’s expeditionary capability.

“We’ve had a 40-year relationship between the MEDEL, JTF-Bravo, and the Honduran Red Cross. We’ve been partners in all sorts of humanitarian activities over the years and we have helped each other. The importance of these blood drives can’t be understated,” said Meyers.