January 1916

Lives hanging by a thread

January 1st, 1916, the Royal Army Medical Corps carried out succesfully the first transfusion using stored and cooled blood. Later in the same year L. Bruce Robertson from Toronto, surgeon and army officer, after his personal experience on the field, published an article on the British Medical Journal titled The transfusion of whole blood: a suggestion for its more frequent employment in war surgery. At the end of the war the blood transfusion were largerly used by the Allied, so that the Royal Army Medical Corps defined the blood transfusion as the most important medical achievement in the war, thanks to the large number of soldiers who survived to serious injuries.

The medical progress for the treatment of the wounded represents a major difference compared to previous wars, characterized by a higher percentage of deaths from injuries, diseases and infections. The change brought by this scientific innovation were crucial especially for the battles fought in harsh and difficult terrain, like mountains. In those cases been heavily injured was like a death sentence, as it was almost impossible to reach the nearest hospital in time.

January 1st, 1916, is also the day of the first mine explosion on the Italian front by the Austrians, on the Lagazuoi, in the Eastern Dolomites of Badia. It is symbolic to emphasize that the new discoveries in medical science could have made the difference even in the extreme and tremendous scenario of the high quote war, where mines explosions, dangerous climbs and avalanches were reaping victims daily. The lives of soldiers were linked, in both cases, to a thin cord – the tube for the blood transfusion on one hand, the rope for climbing on the other.