On Sept 25, 1818, the first human to human blood transfusion took place when James Blundell, a popular lecturer at Guy’s Hospital on obstetrics and the diseases of women, treated a severe postpartum hemorrhage by extracting four ounces of blood from the arm of the patient’s husband and transfusing it into the bloodstream of the patient.
When we write (or read) our Regency Romances, we might not realize how limited medical knowledge was at that time. Vaccination for smallpox was relatively new and Pasteur had not yet proven his germ theory of disease. Furthermore, bloodletting was still extensively used. Bloodletting as a treatment for hemorrhage was still in favor in the late 1800s, so it is somewhat remarkable that Blundell decided to use blood transfusion for his hemorrhaging new mother.
Experiments in blood transfusion began as early as the 1600s. Jean-Baptiste Denys, physician to King Louis XIV of France, transfused the blood of sheep or calves into several patients. In London around the same time, Richard Lower was conducting similar experiments. That any patients survived is thought to be due to the small amounts of blood transfused. By 1670 blood transfusions were banned and further exploration abandoned.
When Blundell began his work with transfusions it had been discovered that transfer of blood from one species to another was harmful. He experimented with animals, discovering that blood must be transfused quickly and that the air must be let out of a syringe before transfusion. Blundell also went on to devise many instruments for blood transfusion which are still in use today. By his death he accumulated a fortune that would be the equivalent of 20 million pounds today.
Funny that I should be writing about the history of blood transfusions today, when I just mentioned this topic last week. Mary Jo Putney’s depiction of blood transfusion in Shattered Rainbows predates Blundell’s achievement, but uses all the knowledge that was available at that time in history to make the scene entirely credible.
What medical innovation do you most take for granted in today’s world?
Tonight I’ll be announcing the winner of Lavinia Kent’s Real Duchesses of London novellas and her What A Duke Wants T-shirt.