WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A top New York heart surgeon who was doing a mercy-mission operation on an 8-year-old boy in El Salvador had to scrub out in the middle of the procedure so he could donate his own rare-type blood to the patient.
Dr. Samuel Weinstein said he had his blood drawn, ate a Pop-Tart, returned to the operating table and watched as his blood helped the boy survive the complex surgery.
"It was a little bit surreal," Weinstein said by phone Friday from the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where he is chief of pediatric cardio-thoracic surgery. He said that on his charity trips with Heart Care International, "We don't sleep a lot, we don't eat a lot, and we were working very hard, and here it was 11 o'clock at night and they hung my blood and he was getting my blood."
In the May 11 operation, which had begun 12 hours earlier at Bloom Hospital in San Salvador, the boy's failing aortic valve was replaced with his pulmonary valve and the pulmonary valve was replaced with an artificial valve.
"The surgery had been going well, everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn't have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding," Weinstein said. "After a while they said they couldn't give him blood because they were running out and he had a rare type."
"We realized he might bleed to death, so I asked what blood type he was and they said he was B-negative and I said, "You know, I'm B-negative."
Dr. Robert Michler, founder of the group, was standing next to him and said, "I support you."
Weinstein, who said he was an occasional blood donor — "but never like this" — said the interruption lasted about 20 minutes.
"It's not like I was going to lie down and have cookies," he said.
But after he gave his pint, "They gave me a couple of bottles of water and a cardiologist who has more important things to do came out to check on me and gave me a Pop-Tart. Yeah, I think surreal is the right word."
The American Red Cross says 2 percent of the population has B-negative blood. Only AB-negative is rarer.
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The patient, Francisco Calderon Anthony Fernandez of San Salvador, came off the ventilator the next day and had some lunch with Weinstein. He has since gone home from the hospital, said Weinstein, who is 43 and lives in Chappaqua.
"His mother was very happy with me and she said to me, `Does this mean that he's going to grow up and become an American doctor?'"
Along the same lines, his colleagues told him the boy "has developed a craving for smoked fish, which they know I happen to like."
"Because it all worked out well, they had fun with it," he said.
Spokeswomen at the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons both said they knew of no similar case and no statistics were kept on doctor-patient blood donations.
Weinstein said he has gone abroad more than a dozen times with Heart Care International, which flies in about 50 doctors, nurses and respiratory technicians "to work with local physicians, help teach them and advance their techniques while helping at the same time to provide care for children who might not otherwise have the resources."
He and most of the others give up vacation time for the trips, he said.
"It's a real team effort," he said. "I'm getting the attention because I'm the one who gave the blood, but there wasn't anybody on the team — I mean anybody, the nurses, the clerks — who wouldn't have done it."
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