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How do blood transfusions work? - Bill Schutt


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In 1881, doctor William Halsted rushed to help his sister Minnie, who was hemorrhaging after childbirth. He quickly inserted a needle into his arm, withdrew his own blood, and transferred it to her. After a few uncertain minutes, she began to recover. What made this blood transfusion successful? Bill Schutt explains the history of the life-saving procedure.

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Given how commonplace blood transfusions have become, early attempts at this procedure can seem quite weird. This was, of course, a time when the nature of the circulatory system and the blood traveling through it were unknown and much of what was known, was wrong. For example, even among the medical communities of the 17th and 18th centuries there was a belief that blood carried within it the essence of its owner’s personality – even if that owner wasn’t human. Although all manner of substances, from animal blood to beer, wine and milk were introduced into patients, successful and safe human transfusions would remain out of reach until Carl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood groups at the turn of the 20th century. But even after the concept of compatible blood types had been established, transfusions were limited by the fact that blood begins to clot almost immediately after coming into contact with the air. For this reason, it wasn’t until anticoagulants (AKA anticlotting agents) like sodium citrate and heparin were discovered, that donated blood could be stored for use at a later date – eventually giving birth to the modern blood bank.

Blood-feeding creatures don't just inhabit our nightmares and horror stories. Check out the Bill Schutt's book on blood-feeders, including bats and bedbugs: Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures

For more on the history of cannibalism, cannibalism in the animal kingdom, and blood transfusion, check out Bill Schutt's website

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Bill Schutt
  • Director Luísa Holanda
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Art Director Luísa Holanda
  • Storyboard Artist Luísa Holanda
  • Animator Felipe Urbanetto, Luísa Holanda
  • Hype Executive Producer Gabriel Garcia
  • Sound Designer Gabriel Maia
  • Music Gabriel Maia
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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