The first recorded attempt at a blood transfusion was in 1492. Pope Innocent VII was in a coma, and the blood of three young boys was infused in a desperate attempt to save the dying pope. The concept of circulation and intravenous access was not known at that time, so the infusion took place through the pope’s mouth. The pope and all three children died.
Experimentation and research into blood transfusions began once again in the 17th century. Although transfusions between animals were successful, human transfers always resulted in death. Ultimately, transfusions were banned in 1670.
James Blundell was a psychologist, obstetrician, teacher and physician in London. In 1818 he published a paper on his experiments with whole blood transfusion in dogs and humans using a syringe. He emphasized the importance of rapid infusion to prevent blood clotting, the importance of avoiding air intake in the veins and incompatability of heterologous donors.
Dr. Blundell then introduced two instruments for transfusion, the impellor and the gravitator. * The impellor delivered blood under pressure, similar to today’s pressure bag that is used to squeeze bags of IV fluids to force rapid infusion. The gravitor was the gravity-fed device. This complex system consisted of a cup, tube and syringe. Blood flowed through a tube suspended above the patient. In 1818, Dr. Blundell performed the first successful transfusion of human blood to treat postpartum hemorrhage. The patient’s husband was the donor of four ounces of blood.
While fine-tuning his experiments involving blood transfusions, Dr. Blundell’s investigation of the effect of surgery on an animal’s peritoneum led to the possibility of successfully performing surgery on humans, especially in the areas of gynecology and obstetrics. He provided evidence from his experiments that it was possible to perform surgery on the abdomen.
From 1825 to 1830, Dr. Blundell performed 10 transfusions, five of them successfully. He invented several instruments used to perform blood transfusions, from which he made a significant amount of money. He amassed $50 million in today’s dollars for his efforts. In 1840, he assisted Samuel Armstrong Lane perform the first successful whole blood transfusion to treat hemophilia.
Dr. Blundell’s other contributions to medicine include advancements in abdominal surgery, as well as surgical strategies for obstetrics and gynecology. He also pioneered the division of fallopian tubes during c-sections to ensure sterility, and the removal of the ovaries to alleviate dysmenorrhea.