TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - As the United States threatens war against Iraq, soldiers are being armed with the newest medical technology, including an experimental bandage soaked in a blood-clotting agent that may save lives on the battlefield.
The 4-by-4-inch cloth bandage could be specially helpful for wounds in the neck, groin or armpit, where bleeding is particularly hard to stop. On remote battlefields, wounded soldiers might otherwise die before reaching a hospital.
Special Operations also has developed a tourniquet that can be applied with one hand. Researchers are working on other bandages to accelerate natural blood-clotting abilities, including one made from shrimp shells and another from potatoes.
The cloth bandages are reaching fighting units through U.S. Special Operations Command, based at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.
"We've known for a long, long time that the biggest bang for the buck you can get in saving lives on the battlefield is to stop hemorrhage," said Air Force Col. David Hammer, Special Operations Command surgeon.
Special Operations also is experimenting with a hemoglobin fluid that could be used instead of blood to carry oxygen in the body. Unchilled blood won't keep long in the field; the fluid could maintain blood pressure until a wounded soldier is evacuated.
Special Operations troops perform the riskiest tasks and are most likely to be on the front lines when shooting starts. The highly trained, elite force of about 48,000 includes Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Air Force Pararescue Jumpers.
The need to better help stranded, critically wounded soldiers was underscored in Somalia in 1993, when a raid by Rangers and Delta Force soldiers went awry. In the failed operation, 18 Americans died, including a soldier who bled to death after being shot in the femoral artery.
That spurred Somalia veteran John Holcomb, now an Army colonel and trauma consultant to the Army surgeon general, to seek new ways to keep wounded soldiers alive until choppers move them out.
Special Operations Command invested several million dollars to develop the new blood-clotting bandage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for use under a strict testing protocol, and medics are being trained to use it.
"One of the good things that will come out of Somalia was that we pushed this whole area of hemorrhage control into the hands of medics in the battlefield," said Holcomb, commander of the Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Hammer said development of the blood-clotting bandage sped up other medical advancements. The bandage made from shrimp shells may go into wide distribution first, he said. Because it doesn't contain a blood product, it's not subject to strict FDA testing protocol.
Medics are also being issued hand-held computers to quickly enter treatment information and retrieve medical data.
If these new developments work on the battlefield, they could eventually be used in ambulances and emergency rooms for civilians.
"We share this technology with anybody who needs it," Hammer said.