James Blundell (physician)

James Blundell (physician)

James Blundell (January 19, 1791 Holborn, LondonJanuary 15, 1878 St. George Hanover Square, London) British obstetrician who performed the first successful transfusion of blood to a patient for treatment of a hemorrhage.

Blundell was born in London, England to Major Blundell and Sarah Ann Haighton. Major was the owner of Major Blundell and Co. Haberdashers and Drapers in London. He descended from the prominent Blundell family of landowners in Lancashire, their main residence being situated at Ince Blundell.

James Blundell developed an interest in the medical field, and studied at Guy's Hospital in London under his uncle John Haighton. Like his uncle, who had developed several instruments still used today for the delivery of babies, James specialized in the field of obstetrics.

In 1818, Blundell determined that a blood transfusion would be appropriate to treat a severe postpartum hemorrhage. He had seen many of his patients dying in childbirth, and tried to concoct a way to remedy to this. However, he was also familiar with the work of Dr. John Leacock who said that the transfer of blood from one species would be harmful to another. He conducted a series of experiments using animals, and observed that as long as the blood was transfused quickly, a transfusion would be successful with a syringe even after it had been collected in a container. He also discovered the importance of letting all the air out of a syringe prior to the transfusion.

Although there is some conflict between whether his first successful transfusion occurred in 1818 or 1829, it seems more likely that in 1829 he performed the first successful human to human transfusion. Regardless of the date, it is agreed upon that Dr. Blundell extracted four ounces of blood from the arm of the patient's husband using a syringe, and successfully transfused it into the patient. Over the course of five years, he conducted ten documented blood tranfusions, five of which were beneficial to the patients, and published these results. During his life he also devised many instruments for the transfusion of blood, many of which are still in use today.

Dr. Blundell never married, but lived with his grand niece Mary Ann Harriet Noyes. From the 1871 British Census, we know he was living at 80 Piccadilly in London, but he also had a home in Westminster at No. 1 Great George Street. He is also known to have continued the Blundell family practice of owning land, likely on the outskirts of London or in Lancashire.

James Blundell died on January 15, 1878 in London. His will, dated April 11, 1857 with a codicil of March 27, 1876, was proven on January 29 by his nephew Dr. George Augustus Frederick Wilks. Apparently life for Dr. Blundell was not too bad. His estate was valued at £350,000 at the time, today equivalent of £20,765,920.44 ($37,934,856.89 American). Much of it was left to his niece Sarah Haighton Noyes (née Wilks) whose husband Henry Crine Noyes had died five years earlier.

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