August 9, 2023

Book Review: In the Blood

Gerald O'Malley, DO, FACEP

I'd like to recommend a fantastic new book. “IN THE BLOOD” is a fascinating, fast-paced, really well-written book about the invention of QuikClot and Combat Gauze with the discovery of the hemostatic properties of zeolite, a common mineral. Sounds boring, right? I kid you not, it's a great, great story.

The intricacies and complexity of the blood clotting process has confounded scientists and physicians for centuries. This book explores many of the failed attempts at understanding and manipulating the clotting cascade and the almost accidental discovery of the hemostatic capacity of zeolite by a mechanical engineer named Frank Hursey. 

Hursey realized that zeolite, an innocuous mineral that costs nearly nothing and is abundant, has a unique chemical structure that “traps” water in molecular caverns - essentially extracting water from whatever it contacts, including blood. The “dehydrated” blood elements then form a stable clot.

The formation of the clot liberates some small but not inconsequential amount of heat, which is the reason (ostensibly) why the military medical community can’t agree on the practical trauma applications of zeolite. The Navy and Marine Corps agree on the value of zeolite-based QuikClot bandage dressings but the Army stubbornly and illogically reject QuikClot in favor of several lesser products which perform demonstrably poorly in clinical trials and real-life combat settings.

The author, Charles Barber, weaves a really compelling story of power struggles and corporate greed and honest people getting caught up in multi-million dollar gamesmanship with pharmaceutical malfeasance and military heroism and incompetence all over the place.  Full disclosure - I was introduced to this book by an old friend and Navy buddy, Tim Coakley, whose contributions to this life-saving product and his battles with Navy hierarchy - including a court marshal - are documented in it.  Anyone who enjoys a true-life story where the heroes get beaten up over and over by the system, yet triumph in the end, will love this book.

Gerald O'Malley and Tim Coakley

Gerald O'Malley and Tim Coakley

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