June 24, 2006:
One of the major medical advances to come out of the war on terror is the Chitosan Hemostatic Dressing (more commonly called HemCon). These are made by taking a freeze dried substance, that causes clotting of blood, and incorporating it into what otherwise looks like a typical battlefield bandage. But these dressings greatly reduce bleeding (which is the most common cause of death among wounded American troops.) This device was a major breakthrough in bandage technology, and troops don't go out into bandit country without at least one per man, and more for medical personnel. Over 95 percent of the time, the HemCon bandages stop bleeding, especially in areas where a tourniquet could not be applied. In the past, troops would often die from loss of blood before a surgeon could get in there to stop the bleeding. But while over 150,000 HemCon bandages have been obtained already, the military needs another 100,000 to make sure everyone in a combat zone has one at all times. While there are not a lot of casualties in base areas, the occasional rocket or mortar shell is likely to cause the kinds of wounds where HemCon can be a lifesaver. So it's a morale boost if every one can carry a HemCon around (a small first aid kit is a standard part of combat equipment). But HemCon is also popular with civilian emergency medical services, and the manufacturers are still trying to catch up with worldwide demand. So far, no American lives have been lost because a HemCon was not available, but unless the Department of Defense can top off its inventory of this item, there will be a risk of that happening, as well as an uneasy feeling among troops forced to move about in the combat zone without their own HemCon.