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Exchange Transfusions Changed My Life – Sickle Cell Society




SCD – Blood Exchange in Hospital 



In August 2019, I was supposed to have a hip bone replacement due to avascular necrosis in my left hip. To minimise the risk of having a sickle cell crisis during orpost-surgery, my doctor recommended a blood exchange. I had never had a bloodexchange before, so I was apprehensive about the entire process. I, therefore, decided to share my experience with you all in case you’ve never had one and would need one someday so you would know what to expect. 


The blood exchange had to be done precisely seven days to the day of the surgery. Before the blood exchange took place, I was required to do blood work to check my blood group.


We arrived at the hospital at seven am on the day of the blood exchange. I was asked to change into a hospital gown and then taken to a room where the doctor/ surgeon placed a femoral line around my groin area. To get this done, they numbed the groin area first with anaesthesia so I wouldn’t feel so much pain. 


I was then moved from the operating room after the femoral line was put into another ward where the actual blood exchange occurred. The nurses connected me to a machine that removed the “bad Ss blood” as it was replaced with “good blood”. I received ten bags of blood altogether. The nurses frequently checked my vital signs(blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate ). They monitored me closely for the first fifteen minutes to ensure that everything was going well and I didn’t have an adverse reaction.


The entire process went well for me, although it was terrifying to see the amount of blood leaving and entering my system. My hubby, at one point, felt light-headed and almost passed out just by watching me.


The entire process took about three hours. After the blood exchange was done, the nurses took blood from the femoral line to determine how much of the sickle cells were left in my system. The nurse then took out the femoral line and applied pressure on the area for five minutes. 


I was given a couple more hours to rest and make sure the place where the femoral line was inserted wasn’t bleeding before I was released with instructions to make sure I check back into a hospital if I didn’t feel well or if I started bleeding.


The funny thing that happened was that before the femoral line was placed before the blood exchange, I had been waiting for two hours because the nurse was looking for my name on the list of patients that came in regularly for blood exchange as she had mistakenly thought I was one of them. 


She was somewhat surprised when I told her I had never had a blood exchange in my life, which would be the first time. When I asked how often sicklers get blood exchanges, she mentioned every six weeks. To say that I was shocked is an understatement. This procedure is excruciating, and I am so grateful to God that I don’t have to do this every six weeks.


But why do some sicklers need a blood exchange so frequently? 


A blood exchange is done to replace sickle red blood cells with normal healthy cells.

Unfortunately, some sickle cell patients have very frequent crises and do not respond well to hydroxyurea ( a drug used to reduce sickle cell crisis). My doctor explained that blood exchanges are used for such patients to help reduce the amount of sickling. It is also used when sicklers have to go for major surgeries.


Have you ever had a blood exchange? How did you feel about the whole experience? Would you be willing to have a blood exchange every six weeks if it would help reduce your crisis? Tell me in the comments below?

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