(p. 20) Charles Barber’s “In the Blood” treats a consequential topic, and contains moments of real insight, drama and humor.
. . .
Though hemorrhage is a leading cause of death in both war and peacetime, we learn, the techniques for stopping it haven’t improved significantly for millenniums. Barber explores the mysteries of the “coagulation cascade” — during which diverse proteins activate in intricately choreographed sequence to facilitate clotting — as well as the “lethal triad” of hypothermia, acidosis and coagulopathy (impaired clotting) that can send the body into shock.
We watch a surgeon at a Navy hospital in Bethesda slit the femoral arteries of a herd of 700-pound pigs, then apply different hemostatic agents to the spurting wounds, to see which substance stops the bleeding best. Most products, backed by biotech and medical companies, fail: The poor beasts bleed out. But zeolite, a simple mineral with hitherto unknown hemostatic properties, saves their bacon every time.
Barber’s earlier books feature persistent, plucky outsiders who strive to change the world, and he finds two more likely subjects in the men who brought zeolite’s lifesaving properties to light. Frank Hursey is the brilliant, nerdy engineer who discovers that this cheap, highly porous mineral, used by industry to absorb radiation, chemicals and bad odors, also happens to accelerate clotting, by mopping up water in the blood and thereby concentrating its coagulation agents. (Later Hursey finds that another inexpensive mineral, kaolin, works even better.)
Barely anyone pays attention to Hursey’s discovery until he partners with Bart Gullong, a down-on-his-luck salesman who rebrands Hursey’s invention “QuikClot” and persuades a military scientist to try it out on people. Hursey and Gullong are soon befriended by iconoclasts within the armed forces medical establishment, more of Barber’s appealing, quirky, determined Davids, who together take on two of the biggest Goliaths around: the military-industrial complex and Big Pharma.
For the full review, see:
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 26, 2023, and has the title “A Fight to Save Soldiers, From the Lab to the Battlefield.”)
The book under review is:
Barber, Charles. In the Blood: How Two Outsiders Solved a Centuries-Old Medical Mystery and Took on the Us Army. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2023.