Speedy cross-matching saves three lives in one afternoon

For Geelong-based Australian Clinical Labs medical scientist, Catherine Secen-Bowlen, preparation is everything when you’re in charge of a city’s blood supply. Thanks to her strong organisational skills, Catherine’s haematology team succeeded in saving three people in the space of 6 hours.

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon in Geelong when Catherine received a call from St John of God Hospital. Due to surgical complications, two patients were bleeding out on the operating table. Surgeons urgently needed blood transfusions to save their lives.

Not long afterwards, Catherine received a second call from another local hospital – a patient was found unconscious at home in a pool of blood and brought into casualty for an emergency blood transfusion. It was a race against the clock and Catherine needed to act fast. With the help of her team, Catherine cross-matched the patients’ blood samples with available blood supplies and screened them for antibodies. The blood supplies were selected, processed and delivered in less than an hour.

The next day, Catherine was delighted to receive the news that all three patients had survived. She credits her team with the success: “Managing the blood bank is a team effort; it’s not just one person, you rely on couriers and colleagues to cope in emergencies.”

In her 26 years as a medical scientist, Catherine has experienced  blood shortages due to trauma and excessive usage, but with careful monitoring and ordering, it’s possible to keep on top of stock.

“We have a lot of interaction with the hospitals to determine how much blood is needed in the lab. If patients are undergoing complex surgeries, it’s our responsibility to order sufficient blood supplies in case of complications. It’s my duty to regularly monitor the supply and ensure that we never run out.”

Catherine reserves special praise for the Australian Red Cross who provides a vital service to pathology labs. “If there’s ever an emergency, the Australian Red Cross can deliver blood by taxi within an hour. In Australia, we’re very fortunate to have a solid infrastructure which equips us to save countless lives.”