Did you know that James Blundell, an English obstetrician, carried out the first human-to-human blood transfusion in the early 19th century?

By Shaun Richard McCann

Did you know that James Blundell, an English obstetrician, carried out the first human – to – human blood transfusion in the early 19th century?

Blundell was born in London and received his medical education in Edinburgh.  As an obstetrician he was very concerned with postpartum hemorrhage and thought it could be treated by blood transfusion. He published the first account of a successful blood transfusion in the Lancet in 1829. However, a better description of the blood transfusion is given by Charles Waller, the doctor attending the patient and who called Blundell because he (Waller) thought the woman was going to die from postpartum blood loss.

Blundell had conducted many experiments on dogs and was anxious to perfect the technique of blood transfusion. It should be remembered that many of those in the medical profession thoroughly disapproved of blood transfusion. Very little is said about the donor by Waller but apparently, he was the woman’s husband. Waller describes the transfusion thus:

James Blundell, English Obstetrician (1790 – 1878). Public Domain.
James Blundell’s transfusion apparatus. Science Group Collection.  Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial – Share Alike 4.0 License.

The vein in the bend of the arm was laid bar, and an incision of sufficient extent to admit the pipe of the syringe was made into it…The syringe used by Dr. Blundell was similar to the common injecting syringe, and contained two ounces…The blood was drawn into a tumbler…it was immediately introduced into the orifice in the vein, and cautiously injected’.1

There was no mention of a ‘transfusion reaction’ so, Blundell was lucky because Landsteiner did not describe the major blood groups until 1900. A minor surprise when reading Waller’s paper is that he confuses symptoms and signs!

A procedure, blood transfusion, albeit not direct human-to human, which was initiated somewhat tentatively has now become routine medical practice.

Learn more here.