The Thick Red Line

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, April 1999

The Thick Red Line
How a battlefield breakthrough may save your hide

By Sarah Friedman

The timeless humor of Monty Python's Black Knight, that daft warrior who upon losing an arm to Excalibur blithely declared, "It's just a flesh wound," may soon become less farcical ù thanks to recent advances in emergency medicine. Doctors now regularly use Dermabond, a cousin of super glue, instead of stitches to close wounds in a jiffy. While this adhesive likely won't be sold for use by laymen, another super-suture will be: a bandage that stops major arterial bleeding in less than a minute, turning a gory mess into, well, a flesh wound. The bandage was designed for the battlefield, where blood loss accounts for half of all deaths, but its wilderness applications are no less useful. "Let's say you fall off your mountain bike and have a major scalp laceration," posits Colonel John Hess, a hematologist who, as commander of the blood research detachment at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., helped develop the product. "You can tear the package open, push the bandage into the wound, and the bleeding will stop almost immediately." The secret is a meringue-like foam of blood-clotting proteins that's freeze-dried onto a cloth backing. When the proteins contact blood, they turn to a gooey papier-m‚ch‰ that gels to form an instant scab. Since the proteins are derived from hard-to-come-by human plasma, the first commercially available version of the bandage will set you back $1,000. Not to worry, though ù Hess says they've figured out how to produce the proteins in cows, which can in turn be cloned. "Once we get the herd up," he promises, "the price will go down significantly."

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