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Innovations can keep wounded troops alive on battlefield

From Barbara Starr
CNN

A new bandage containing clotting agents can stop blood flow in two minutes.
A new bandage containing clotting agents can stop blood flow in two minutes.

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CNN's Barbara Starr looks at breakthroughs in battlefield medicine that can help fallen troops stay alive till more help comes. (January 31)
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(CNN) -- Air Force combat medic Jason Cunningham died a hero in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan last winter. Shot several times, he bled uncontrollably for hours while still trying to save wounded comrades. But he died just an hour before rescuers arrived.

Hoping to prevent deaths like Cunningham's from happening again, special operations forces getting ready for Iraq are now arming themselves with new ways to treat life-threatening wounds.

"The most difficult (situation) for any medic -- whether they're in a hospital or in the field -- is to be in a position where you can't do anything and you are standing there without a tool," said Air Force Col. Dr. Dave Hammer.

One new tool in medic's bag is a fast-working bandage. The new bandage contains the agent that makes blood clot. Laboratory animal tests show that when the bandage is applied for just two minutes, the clotting agent stops the bleeding.

It was Operation Anaconda's losses that spurred special operations command at MacDill Air Force Base to put the bandage in the field years sooner than the Pentagon planned.

"Should the medics have had this tool in their hands, I think they could have saved some lives," Hammer said.

Officials say it's a huge step forward in saving lives on the battlefield. In Somalia in 1993, wounded soldiers died when they were unable to reach a field hospital just a mile away.

A person can die within one hour if the blood loss is 100 milliliters a minute, the equivalent of just three shot glasses.

"This bandage has the potential to save not only my teammate but possibly my friend -- the guy I have lived with, slept with, spent probably more time with than I have if I was married," Army Master Sgt. Michael Brochu said.

Army Master Sgt. Michael Brochu demonstrates the one-handed tourniquet.
Army Master Sgt. Michael Brochu demonstrates the one-handed tourniquet.

The bandage has potential uses for civilians, too. If approved for the public, the bandage could be used to treat accident victims, gunshot and stab wounds and to help keep people alive long enough to get more elaborate medical attention.

Another tool special forces will be bringing to Iraq is a one-handed tourniquet, enabling soldiers to quickly stop blood flow from a wound while still keeping one hand free.

"I can still shoot, take a couple of shots, reach up and grab (the tourniquet), cinch it down to where I can control the hemorhage," Brochu explained.

The military is also working on personal digital assistant which can help track medical information on soldiers in the field.

With these new tools, combat medics getting ready for Iraq may leave behind the days of Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan, where they watched men bleed to death, unable to help.


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