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Blood bank could be pets' salvation

A South Florida animal blood bank, possibly the first of its kind, is helping save canine lives.

Associated Press
Published April 18, 2005

WILTON MANORS - His name is Fluffy, after the guard dog in the first Harry Potter novel. But it took a medical miracle, not magic, to save his life.

"It was a roller coaster like you can't describe," said the dog's owner, Larry DeLuca. Fluffy has hemophilia, a disease that prevents his blood from clotting. At 14 months, he almost bled to death while DeLuca and Fort Lauderdale veterinarian Sharon Glass scrambled to find the animal blood products that would save him.

"There wasn't anywhere in the southern United States to order from," said Glass, who owns Family Pet Medical Center. "Sometimes we were literally waiting for FedEx and UPS to arrive."

Now the 54-pound mixed breed is the inspiration behind what may be the country's only nonprofit animal blood bank that depends on volunteer donor pets for its supply.

DeLuca teamed with friend and fellow animal lover Rick Johnson to open Sun States Animal Blood Bank last year. Dr. Glass signed on as the bank's medical director. All volunteer their time.

DeLuca is finishing his final year of medical school. Johnson spends his days working as an accountant and his evenings delivering blood products to veterinary hospitals throughout Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

"Fluffy was the beginning, the genesis, of the blood bank," said Johnson, "but it's now the ripple effect where we've helped hundreds ... of other animals."

Sun States recruits donors by visiting local dog day care centers, posting signs in local animal hospitals and conducting blood drives. At a recent blood drive during Doggie Palooza in Plantation, Sun States registered close to a dozen new donors, including a 4-year-old Vizsla named Darby. After hopping up on the donation table, Darby began licking DeLuca's face. Darby sat perfectly still as DeLuca shaved off a small patch of fur on his neck, inserted the needle and drew a pint of blood.

Afterward, instead of the orange juice and cookies human donors get, Darby was treated to bottled water and dog treats.

"The whole process takes about 7 to 10 minutes," Johnson said. Criteria are strict, but one of the keys to a successful donation is a calm, cooperative dog. Johnson says they don't force the issue if a dog seems unwilling, "We recognize and respect the right for every animal to say, "No, I don't want to donate today."'

Donating dogs get a free screening for parasites and diseases. It's about $300 worth of testing. If Sun States' volunteers find problems, they notify the dog's owner and discard the blood.

The bank also types and processes all of its own blood products. By breaking down the whole blood into red blood cells, plasma and other components, it ensures veterinarians get just the part they need.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, who heads the in-house blood bank for the state's only College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, says the demand for animal blood products is "skyrocketing." She attributes the increase to more veterinary schools emphasizing transfusion medicine, a growing awareness among vets regarding blood product benefits and pet owners who are increasingly willing to spend more on pet care.

There are no national standards for pricing or screening animal blood. A unit of red blood cells from Sun States ranges from $42 to $120 depending on the blood type, and a unit of plasma runs $268.

"I would like to have lots of successful community blood banks," Crawford said. "I do not like that patients cannot have a product that we know would help them recover just because there's a shortage."

Sun States Animal Blood Bank hopes to get enough donors to meet the need in South Florida. In the year since it opened, Sun States has signed up 140 dogs. Blood from those donors has helped save lives.

Last summer, a West Palm Beach canine officer named Oscar needed plasma after suffering heatstroke while on a suspect's trail.

"He could have died. It was a very life-threatening situation with him," said Robin Luchina, a veterinary technician and the officer manager at American Animal Emergency in West Palm Beach. DeLuca's dog Fluffy still needs transfusions every month to keep his hemophilia under control, but with Sun States up and running there's no more sweating the next delivery truck.

"We've had a lot of animals in the win column," DeLuca said. "And that's been a really wonderful thing."

[Last modified April 18, 2005, 00:52:13]

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