Atlanta hospital treats badly injured teen with 'bloodless' medicine

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Shawntrel Dyess remembers the phone call that changed everything.

"It was December 3rd, I will never forget that call, ever." Dyess says.  "I was here in Georgia."

Her 19-year old son Cameron, 2,400 miles away in Fremont, California, had been badly injured in a wreck. His cousin, the driver, was dead, Cameron barely hanging on in a trauma center.

"They couldn't tell us anything, except that he was in critical," Dyess says.

Dyess' had broken legs, a shattered pelvis, and internal injuries. To save him, surgeons uses blood transfusions.

"They said he was literally about to die, he was bleeding out at that time," Dyess says.
Dyess was grateful to the doctors, but deeply torn about the transfusions.

She is a Jehovah's Witness, and believes the Bible forbids Christians from receiving blood, even in an emergency.

About 2 percent of Georgia adults are Jehovah's Witness, and just under 1 percent of all Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. Members are known for going door-to-door, sharing their faith.  
They're also known for abstaining from blood.

"Because it's Bible-based, it's something we, as Jehovah's Witnesses, have to obey," Dyess says.
Cameron Dyess is not Jehovah's Witness.  

But, when doctors wanted to transfuse him again, down the road, when his hemoglobin levels dropped, his mother asked him to  make the call.

"He completely told me, 'Mom, no blood,'" Dyess says.

The doctors pushed back, and Shawntrel Dyess resisted.

"They're telling you your child is going to die, he will never walk again," she says.

Brenda Gray-Jones, Clinical Director of WellStar Atlanta Medical Center's Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Program, knows the medical tug-of-war over blood well.

"If a person is not going to take a blood transfusion, they're not going to take a blood transfusion, whether you tell them they're going to die, or whether you tell them they have cancer, or whether they're going to surgery, it doesn't change," Gray-Jones says.

So, she and her team at WellStar Atlanta Medical Center have spent nearly 20 years looking for ways to treat Jehovah's Witnesses without using blood from someone else. She understands their resistance to receiving blood.

"Because it is a conviction, it is a belief," Gray-Jones says.  "It's your faith. It is the foundation of your life."

From California, Shawntrel Dyess reached out to Gray-Jones, who had spoken at a bloodless medicine seminar in Atlanta that Dyess had attended several times in the past.

About 6 weeks after his accident, Cameron's insurance company paid to fly him from California to WellStar Atlanta Medical because of its Bloodless Medicine program.

He's had 10 more surgeries since then, but no blood transfusions. Instead, surgeons here use tools to limit bleeding, and a machine called a Cell Saver to recycle the blood he loses during surgery.
When Cameron's blood cell counts drop, they give him non-blood products like EPO and IV iron to bring his levels back up.

"He is getting so much better," his mother says.

After 5 months in a hospital bed, Cameron Dyess is eager to go home.
So what is the first thing he wants to get back to?

"Just living my life, playing basketball again," he says.