Nurses collaborate to transfuse more than 100 units of blood, save patient’s life

Nurses from Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester's Methodist and Saint Marys campuses collaborated to administer more than 100 units of blood to save a transplant patient’s life.

When Brent Berry became ill after a liver transplant, and his condition deteriorated, a team gathered to come to his aid. He would require a massive blood transfusion protocol that required backup from across the Rochester hospital practice.

At midnight on July 15, 2023, transplant nurse Carolyn Unruh made a phone call that would trigger an incredible eight-hour effort to save a patient's life. The result was a testament to the nurses' teamwork and expertise.

Brent Berry was admitted to Eisenburg 10-2 on the Methodist Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester when he started feeling unwell after a recent liver transplant.

Brent's condition went from serious to critical, when he began to vomit blood. Unruh quickly called the Rapid Response Team to request his immediate transfer to the ICU at Eisenberg 10-3.

"Carolyn is an excellent transplant nurse," says Greg Wisa, house supervisor on Eisenberg 10-3/4 that night. "She knew immediately that his life was in danger. Without that knowledge, instinct and first call, there would have been no chance at saving his life."

A 'beautiful and compassionate act'

In the ICU at Eisenberg 10-3, six nurses were scheduled to support the floor's low census. Brent would require substantial nursing support for the next seven hours, ultimately needing a massive blood transfusion protocol and going into full cardiac arrest five separate times.

Aris Ututalum, house supervisor for the Methodist Campus that evening, put out a call for additional assistance to all charge nurses.

The entire team of charge nurses answered the call. While the ICU nurses attended to Brent, Margo Zerrudo, Jenna Engelkes, Megan Callahan, Tracy Lansing, Tara Essar, Leanna Williams, Debra Knoepke, Jill Hurst, Sally Axtell, Anne Thompson and Meagan Davis answered call lights for other rooms, assisted with turns and activities of daily living, and brought in supplies and administered noncritical medications to other patients.

Seeing charge nurses from other floors filter up to 10-3 ICU to help was the most beautiful and compassionate act I have ever seen in my 15 years at Mayo Clinic.

Greg Wisa

"Seeing charge nurses from other floors filter up to 10-3 ICU to help was the most beautiful and compassionate act I have ever seen in my 15 years at Mayo Clinic," Wisa says. "They also comforted Berry's distraught family. A few even jumped into one of the many Code Blues and did a round or two of chest compressions to give the exhausted ICU nurses a break."

Brent's ICU bedside nurse, Amanda Beehler, "confidently coordinated the whole effort of administering fluids, medications, keeping him clean, five separate cardiac arrests over eight hours, and ultimately his transfer to Interventional Radiology for definitive care," Wisa says.

'An astonishing feat' for IV Infusion nursing

Jen Pena and Kayla Skogebo were the infusion nurses who administered more than 100 units of blood to Brent between midnight and 8:30 a.m. The two nurses are part of the IV Transfusion Service team, led by Amy Mahon and Jeff Adank.

Brent Berry

"It was an astonishing feat," Mahon says. "It is very rare for one patient to need that many blood products. Jen and Kayla are invested in our team and know the difference our team can make for patients and other healthcare providers. When the Transfusion Lab contacted them with the emergency, they jumped right in, knowing what they needed to do."

Because the blood transfusion event required the full attention of Pena and Skogebo, additional help was needed to handle other IV, central line or transfusion patients across the facility.

Gretchen Torgrimson, the IV Transfusion Service charge nurse for the Saint Marys and Methodist campuses, sent Brenda McDonald from Saint Marys to ensure all patient care needs were met while Pena and Skogebo handled Berry's case. Torgrimson also provided back-end support in Plummer Chart to help the nurses working with Berry.

"It certainly was a shift they (Pena and Skogebo) will remember their entire nursing career," Mahon says. "Teamwork and excellent communication were a must for that patient emergency, and they met that challenge with ease."

"I'm proud to say that we saved that bleeding patient's life in the end," says Wisa. "But truly, we could not have accomplished this heroic effort without the help of every single RN on the team and help from the Saint Marys Campus that night."

Second chance and second transplant

The emergency that night turned out to be caused by a rupture in Brent's hepatic artery. The rupture not only caused significant blood loss but also caused his new liver to fail, putting him in an even more life-threatening situation.

"We weren't sure he was strong enough to undergo another transplant," says Kim Brake, a Mayo Clinic nurse administrator and a friend of Brent. "Well, strong he was. He got a new liver in August and is doing fantastic."