May 26, 2022 | Innovation, Medicine

Demand for Blood Products Soars

A photo of STARS Clinical Operations Manager Bob Odney holding a Blood on Board cooler


Carrie Derin needed a life-saving blood transfusion after being impaled by a tree while quadding with her family.

A boat propeller sliced through Jenn Oakes’ leg, and blood was crucial for her to survive.

A crash between a truck and a hay wagon on a dusty road left Ryland McCall losing blood and fighting for his life.

Charlotte McHugh’s heart was cut by a broken rib after her car was struck on the side by a truck, leaving her chest full of blood, but her veins empty.

These are just a few of the harrowing stories where blood made all the difference in a patient’s outcome.

In fact, Carrie’s mission was the inspiration for STARS to launch a blood on board program — an initiative that would go on to save the lives of Jenn, Ryland, Charlotte and countless others since.

“Having blood on-board has been a game-changer for our organization and can make the difference between life or death,” said critical care paramedic and provincial director of operations for STARS in Saskatchewan Darcy McKay, who spearheaded the project in 2013.

Prior to this, a STARS helicopter would have to stop at a hospital en route to a traumatic incident if the air medical crew anticipated a need for blood. This extra stop took precious time during missions when every second counts.

Initially, the program enabled STARS to carry two units of type O negative blood on board every flight. O negative is known as the “universal blood type,” as it’s safe to be given to anyone — particularly helpful in a traumatic situation when a patient urgently needs blood, and we don’t know their type.

The cooler carrying the units of blood is temperature controlled, and if it’s not used within 72 hours, it’s placed back in the blood supply – not wasted — and we get fresh blood for our crew to use on the next patient who needs it.

Blood on Board was the first program of its kind in North America, and stocking blood on board aircraft is now considered an industry norm.

“It’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago, no air ambulances routinely carried blood on board,” said Cindy Seidl, critical care nurse and chief clinical officer with STARS. “Now, thanks to the leadership and innovation of our team it’s become adopted by most helicopter and fixed-wing EMS programs in North America as a standard tool to help save lives.”

This spring STARS is innovating once again as we become the first air ambulance in Canada to employ the Massive Hemorrhaging Protocol — where in addition to blood products, we carry two special medications that help stop bleeding.

“We are excited to start MHP and are confident it will soon become another indispensable tool for our crews to improve the outcomes of some of our most critical patients,” said McKay.

An infographics showing the number of units of blood that have been used for patients from each STARS base.: Edmonton has used 499 units, Calgary has used 448 units, Winnipeg has used 342 units, Saskatoon has used 287 units, Regina has used 196 units and Grande Prairie has used 170 units.


Since the blood on board program started, STARS has used 1,942 units or 971 litres of blood on its missions. Most often our air medical crews use the blood for transfusions en route to hospital, and other times the blood is taken to a sending hospital, if they have run out.

“The way in which STARS fights for the lives of patients is constantly evolving, and it doesn’t always involve transporting a patient,” said Seidl.

“I was recently on a mission where we were called upon to transport blood between two cities due to a shortage in the wake of an incident with multiple patients needing a lot of blood. STARS was the fastest resource to get the vital blood products from hospital to hospital.”

Demand for blood products has grown and STARS now carries four units of blood on board the aircraft. “From vehicle collisions to ATV rollovers, postpartum hemorrhaging to gunshot wounds, many times we found our patients needed more than two units,” said McKay. “As a result, we worked with our partners at Canadian Blood Services to carry even more blood.”

Blood on Board is a fine example of innovation and collaboration with our partners — all to save more lives. And it’s possible because of your support.

“We encourage everyone to donate blood as often as they can,” said McKay. “Chances are good the blood you give could end up with us, saving the life of a STARS patient, and what could be better than the gift of life?”

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