STOP THE BLEED comes to Antarctica
STOP THE BLEED® is important for everyone to learn. But for the researchers stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, it’s particularly vital—they’re in isolation in an extreme environment for 10 months out of the year and lack consistent connectivity to access up-to-date medical resources. In February 2020, the medical team onsite hosted the first STOP THE BLEED® training at the South Pole Station.
There are currently 42 people at the South Pole Station, where scientific research is conducted. Lynn E. Gras, a family nurse practitioner from Sitka, AK, is one-half of the medical team currently stationed there, along with Julien Naylor, MD, an internal medicine specialist, also from Sitka. They provide mostly urgent care and some chronic care monitoring for the team at the South Pole, who are generally healthy and have passed a rigorous pre-qualification process.
“Any injury at the South Pole Station has the potential to be life-threatening in these conditions.”
— Lynn E. Gras Family Nurse Practitioner
Unforeseen events and accidents can happen anywhere, but they can be particularly serious in Antarctica where temperatures during the winter average -70°F and medical evacuation is often not possible.
“Every safety precaution is taken with forethought and a solid plan, but we still have heavy equipment operating in extremely cold temperatures and low visibility,” Ms. Gras said. “Any injury at the South Pole Station has the potential to be life-threatening in these conditions.”
There is only a limited walking blood bank (a term for blood drawn from a pre-tested, “walking” donor). “This means we need to find, consent, draw, and match whole blood from donor to patient as quickly as possible to save a life while possibly elbow deep trying to repair the underlying injury with our generalist skills and resources,” Ms. Gras said.
Further, the South Pole Station team is only able to get intermittent satellite coverage for both internet and phone connectivity. Ms. Gras said they often have to treat a patient as best they can and then look up details on a complex diagnosis or treatment plan whenever the internet is available again.
Although STOP THE BLEED® classes around the world have been on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has remained safe at the South Pole Station. Those who live and work there are extremely isolated and remain free of any COVID-19 cases. Ms. Gras said she plans to hold another training and will prepare the next medical team so they can help make STOP THE BLEED® training a regular occurrence at the South Pole Station.
“Antarctica is fascinating in so many aspects, which is the reason so many of us come to work here and support the science that happens here,” Ms. Gras said. “It also, interestingly enough, remains the only place on earth still COVID-19-free. With crew change at the end of winter, we will be working hard to ensure this continues but are also prepared to quarantine, stabilize, and treat as needed.”