Blood runs: A little-known service from state troopers
The next time you see a state trooper zipping down the road with lights and sirens on, it may not be for the reason you think.
Troopers deal with traffic crashes, speeders and drunk drivers on a regular basis, but they also play another important lifesaving role—delivering blood.
Those law enforcement officers in North Dakota and Minnesota perform dozens of blood relays each year between blood banks and hospitals to help patients in urgent need of transfusions.
Capt. Bryan Niewind, commander of the North Dakota Highway Patrol Southeast Region, said it's something troopers have been doing for years.
"We've been tasked with this mission and it's something we're happy to do," Niewind said.
From last July to this July, North Dakota troopers have made approximately 30 'blood runs.'
So far in 2017, the Minnesota State Patrol has completed 47 of them.
Sometimes, it's sheer volume of blood that's needed; other times, it might be a certain blood type that's required.
Recent blood runs in both states involved women hemorrhaging after giving birth.
Last September, when North Dakota law enforcement were spread thinly statewide due to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the patrol received an urgent request from a Williston hospital. A woman had gone through four units of blood in less than half an hour after delivering a baby.
Three troopers formed a relay to get blood to the hospital, where a doctor told them, "You guys saved a life today."
Saving one of their own
A similar situation in May had Minnesota troopers scurrying to save a mom who'd given birth to her first child.
Lisa Jaeger suffered a massive hemorrhage during what seemed a routine Cesarean section.
During a State Patrol news conference in June, she talked about the doctor asking her to turn her head to look at her healthy, newborn son, then chaos erupting.
"It was kind of bizarre," Jaeger said. "I could hear everything that was going on around me but I was not responding to anything the doctors were saying or asking me to do."
She'd lost 3 liters of blood, and the blood needed for a transfusion was 45 miles away.
Troopers did a three-person relay from a St. Paul blood bank to the hospital in Red Wing, covering the span in 30 minutes.
Most often, troopers don't know the recipient of the blood-- only the hospital and a brief description of the type of medical emergency.
In the Red Wing case, they learned midway through that it was Jaeger, a vehicle fleet manager for the State Patrol.
Trooper Jacob Letourneau, who did one leg of the relay, said it got him thinking about his own family.
"I'm recently married and I thought about my wife, if she had a child and needed the blood. It made it personal," Letourneau said.
On blood runs, troopers most often deliver whole blood, but also move platelets and plasma. Occasionally, they will transport organs or tissues for transplant.
The run usually starts with an urgent call from a hospital.
"They make that call to the American Red Cross, the Red Cross calls us and state troopers leap into action and get that blood as fast and as safe as possible to the location," said Col. Matt Langer, Minnesota State Patrol Chief.
In North Dakota, requests go through state radio dispatch, and supervisors at both ends begin coordinating immediately.
At the blood bank, workers scramble to get the blood product ready.
Caroline McGuire, donor recruitment representative at United Blood Services in Fargo, said they pack it in layers of dry ice and plastic wrap in a cardboard box.
"Everything is kept cool and it's good to transport," McGuire said.
Troopers in both states use a relay system, rather than having one trooper drive the whole way.
That way, troopers remain in their assigned stations, where they're familiar with the roads and the quickest routes, and no area is left without a trooper. It also means a blood run won't be interrupted by a gas stop.
The process is done with swift synchronization, and Jaeger is grateful to the medical personnel, troopers and blood donors who make it happen.
"It hits you hard, just how many things came together and worked out right," she said.
Blood runs by troopers
July 2016 to July 2017 - 30
July 2012 to July 2017 - 130
2017 — 47 so far
2016 — 89
2015 — 70
2014 — 50
2013 — 63
2012 — 95
Source: N.D. and Minn. state patrols