The clinical perfusionist is a critical member of the surgical team during open heart surgeries, when the surgeons must stop the patient’s heart. The perfusionist operates the heart-lung machine, which maintains the patient’s blood flow while the patient is on bypass, and in effect, assumes the function of both the heart and lungs.
“We’re kind of a physiologist in bypass and valve surgery in that we have to know how normal physiology works and then how it changes when we take away the heart and take away the brain, the kidneys, and the other major organ systems,” explains Ben Greenfield, board-certified clinical perfusionist.
The perfusionist closely monitors and controls the temperature of the patient’s blood as it moves through the heart-lung machine, administers any required blood products or medications, and keeps both the surgeon and anesthesiologist fully informed.
In addition, the perfusionist must also monitor the cell saver, which washes the blood lost during surgery so that the red blood cells can be given back to the patient.
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