SAN DIEGO -- An east San Diego County mother says a blood transfusion nearly killed her after she delivered her twins.
Devyn Winchell delivered her twins by C-section in September at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest. She says after the delivery, doctors told her she had low iron levels and needed a transfusion. Winchell says the first bag of blood was fine, but the second was not.
“Within 15 to 20 minutes, I started to feel flu-like symptoms. My body just started to get really achy,” said Winchell, a mother of four girls.
Then it got worse.
“I’m just like, screaming in pain,” Winchell recalled. “Probably within 24 hours, I was on life support, I was in and out of consciousness.”
Winchell said she ended up in a semi-comatose state, hooked up to machines. When she came to, she received news she never expected.
“There was something wrong with your blood transfusion,” Winchell told Team 10, holding back tears. “You’ve been in the hospital now for five weeks. You got to keep fighting.”
“I missed every newborn moment, all the bonding, the breastfeeding, the snuggling, the getting up in the middle of the night,” Winchell said. “That was really, really rough.”
Winchell said doctors told her the second bag of blood she received during her transfusion contained the bacteria pseudomonas.
“My blood was poisoned, basically, and it kept attacking the organs, the healthy organs,” Winchell said.
Winchell showed Team 10 photos of the bacteria’s effects. It ate away at her skin. It attacked her both inside and out.
“It completely consumed all the muscle in my abdominal area,” Winchell said.
Doctors told Winchell that in a few years, she could be wheelchair bound. Winchell said since she is in her early thirties and was relatively healthy before this incident, she is still able to deal with the pain and lingering effects of this bacteria. Eventually, she told Team 10 that won’t be the case.
Winchell said there was no warning about this type of bacteria.
Team 10 examined blood donation procedures in San Diego County. Donors are tested for several illnesses, as required by the FDA. They are: Syphilis, Hepatitis B & C, HIV Types 1 & 2 and Human T-Lymphotropic Virus, Types 1 & 2.
The FDA also recommends blood donors are tested for Trypanosoma cruzi and West Nile Virus.
Team 10 asked the FDA why pseudomonas is not tested and questioned whether it was due to cost-effectiveness. A spokesperson sent this statement as a response:
“The potential transmission of Pseudomonas and other bacterial infections by transfusions of Whole Blood or Red Blood Cells is not considered a major risk. In addition, all blood donors must be in good health to be eligible to donate, which includes a normal temperature. Platelets, a blood component, has a higher risk of bacterial contamination due to its processing and storage, and FDA has issued a draft guidance that addresses recommended bacterial testing and/or pathogen reduction technologies.”
Winchell believes that what occurred to her is proof that this bacteria is a major risk.
“How many patients do you want to kill or maim or disable? Is it worth it?”
She and her family want to bring awareness to the risks that come with blood donations and transfusions.
“They should be testing this stuff before it goes into patients,” Winchell said. “If this would have happened to a cancer patient or someone who was elderly or a kid, it would have been catastrophic. I guarantee you it would have been fatal.”
Team 10 contacted UCSD Health. They sent the following statement:
“Contamination of red blood cells with bacteria is an extremely rare event, occurring less than once per million units transfused. Between 2010 and 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recorded one fatality linked to bacterial contamination of red blood cells. Within that five-year period, approximately 65 million units of red blood cells were transfused in the United States.“The FDA establishes and regulates all testing and management of blood products. As with all blood products used, UC San Diego Health performed every mandated FDA test prior to issuing the unit in question for transfusion. The unit also passed a visual inspection before use.“The transfusion was halted when the patient became symptomatic, appropriate clinical care was initiated and continued through her recovery.”
Meanwhile, the FDA said several federal agencies routinely monitor for “potential threats to blood safety from new and re-emerging infectious agents.”
A spokesperson with UCSD Health said the American Red Cross is the primary donor of blood to the hospital. Team 10 contacted the Red Cross, but a spokeswoman said they could not comment, citing confidentiality.
Winchell’s twins are now eight months old. Because of the pain, she can no longer do routine tasks around the house, like pick up after her kids and clean the house. The pain becomes unbearable.
She said her medical costs have already exceeded two million dollars. Insurance is covering some of it, but they are using their savings to help pay for the remaining costs.
Her loved ones have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical costs.