At The Blood Center, we're all about saving lives - human or otherwise. So it was a big deal to hear that we had a small part in helping save the life of a baby elephant named Joy. Joy is an Asian elephant, a species classified as endangered with only an estimated 40,000 left in the world.
In 2015, The Blood Center was able to donate and house a centrifuge for the Houston Zoo, which has exclusive access to the equipment at our headquarters. The Houston Zoo uses that centrifuge to separate elephant plasma from the blood components to treat calves.
"That fresh plasma has all of the good stuff that those calves need — antibodies, clotting factors, helps maintain their blood pressure. It's really a life-saving treatment that is making a huge difference in our herd," said zoo veterinarian Dr. Christine.
Elephant calves are most susceptible to EEHV, a natural virus that occurs in Asian and African elephants, between the ages of 1 and 8, according to Dr. Christine. Rob, a trainer at the zoo, said there are several possible indicators that an elephant may be sick, such as a swollen head, discoloration of the tongue or a loss of appetite. In Joy's case, the zoo caught the potentially fatal virus through routine blood testing.
Katie, a vet tech at the zoo, was in the lab when the results of Joy's blood test showed her white blood cell count and monocytes were low. The zoo sent the blood off to Baylor College of Medicine, which confirmed Joy had EEHV.
To treat the virus, zoo employees pack a donor elephant's blood on ice and transport it to the centrifuge at The Blood Center. Plasma is separated from the rest of the components and brought back to be transfused into the sick calf.
"Our relationship with The Blood Center was really crucial during this time," Katie said.
Dr. Christine added, "The Blood Center centrifuge has made a tremendous difference in the level of care we're able to provide for sick baby elephants here at the zoo. Plasma is a very important part of EEHV treatment."