Press Releases

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

STARS stocking blood for life-saving transfusions

The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) is the first air medical program in Canada to begin stocking blood in advance for life-saving transfusions. Manitoba Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, Kelvin Goertzen visited the STARS Winnipeg base today to announce the new service offered by STARS in Manitoba. 

“A prompt response can mean the difference between life and death for STARS patients,” said Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, Kelvin Goertzen. “Having blood on board will improve outcomes and help save lives.”

STARS’ Winnipeg base is now one of six in Western Canada to offer this service. It is anticipated that STARS in Manitoba will use 30 units of blood per year, with a typical critical patient consuming two units during a transport.

“Access to blood in-transit will give the STARS flight-team one more tool to use when they respond to scene calls and during patient transport,” said Dr. Rob Grierson, chief medical officer, WRHA Emergency Response and Patient Transport. “Being able to provide this service to Manitobans is another example of the strong partnership we have with STARS, Diagnostic Services Manitoba and Canadian Blood Services.”

Two units of O-negative blood are stored on the STARS helicopter in an insulated ‘Bethune Box’ thermal cooler. The cooler maintains a temperature of four degrees Celsius with a monitoring device, and if blood is not used within 72 hours it is cycled back to Diagnostic Services Manitoba (DSM) where it will be inspected and made available to other patients. The shelf-life for whole blood is 42 days when stored properly.

“For the critically injured, blood can make the difference between life and death.  Bringing blood transfusion to the patient at the roadside is a game-changing treatment that very few other services in North America provide,” says Dr. Doug Martin, transport physician and medical director for STARS in Manitoba.

“The ability to give blood is a powerful complement to our established strategy of highly-trained air medical crews providing critical care, while rapidly transporting the patient to the trauma centre for definitive care,” says Dr. Martin.


Canadian Blood Services relies on the generosity of blood donors to help STARS perform life-saving transfusions. One in two Canadians are eligible to donate blood, yet only one in 60 actually does.

The blood storage cooler was named the ‘Bethune Box’ in honour of Dr. Norman Bethune (1890-1939), a Canadian surgeon who developed the first mobile blood collection and distribution service.  Operating during the Spanish Civil War, Dr. Bethune's service provided over 5,000 units of blood directly to severely injured patients along a 1000 km battlefront, saving an estimated 300 to 400 lives.  His innovation helped to shape contemporary approaches to the resuscitation and care of critically injured.

STARS is a non-profit organization that provides specialized emergency medical care and transportation for critically ill and injured patients. Our physicians, nurses, paramedics and pilots work with a team of dedicated support staff and community partners to save lives. STARS has bases in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

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