The REBOA device: how this tiny balloon is saving lives

Over the last 10 years, major advancements in trauma techniques and equipment have helped to halve the death rate of trauma patients. Our funding provided The Royal London Hospital’s air ambulance team with REBOA equipment that can be used at the scene of an accident to prevent bleeding instantly.

The REBOA balloon catheter is a thin flexible tube topped by a tiny inflatable balloon. When patients are losing too much blood, surgeons make a small incision in the groin and feed the tube through it, into the aorta. The aorta is the body’s biggest blood vessel. The balloon then fills with water and inflates. This blocks the aorta and temporarily stops the blood flowing into damaged blood vessels.

Blood haemorrhaging is one of the biggest causes of death due to trauma. Between 30-40% of trauma fatalities are caused by major bleeding and over 2.5 million people bleed to death from their injuries each year around the world. Previously, to stop the bleeding, surgeons had to crack open the patient’s chest to clamp the aorta. This procedure could cause complications and take weeks to heal. The REBOA technique is much less invasive and leads to better recovery.

We worked with the London Air Ambulance to deliver the world’s first roadside REBOA. Tragically, many haemorrhaging patients die before making it to a hospital to be treated. With our funding, the talented doctors at The Royal London Hospital were able to deploy the REBOA technique as soon as they got to the patient at the roadside. The REBOA balloon catheter stabilises patients for long enough to get them back to the hospital.

Victoria (pictured right) was 24 when she was hit by a lorry while cycling to work. The front wheels of the lorry knocked her off her bike. The back wheels then rolled over her, crushing her pelvis. Her injuries were so severe that she lost one of her legs. She was the second patient ever successfully treated with a pre-hospital REBOA.

"I feel so thankful that the London Air Ambulance and Barts Charity developed the REBOA procedure. Without that I would probably be dead and certainly wouldn't have had the same rehabilitation outcome."

Dr Anne Weaver, clinical director at The Royal London Hospital and lead clinician for London's Air Ambulance, says that the pre-hospital REBOA equipment has had a big impact for trauma patients.

"London’s Air Ambulance works alongside The Royal London Hospital - the busiest Major Trauma Centre in the UK that sees 3,000 patients each year for trauma-related injuries.

"REBOA is one of several ground-breaking projects that we are collaborating on to find innovative solutions that meet the critical needs of the rising number of trauma patients. Our aim is to significantly reduce death and disability from serious injury, and advanced pre-hospital care such as this will have life-saving impact for Londoners," says Dr Weaver.

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