MADRID (VN) — German blood doping expert Dr. Yorck Olaf Schumacher gave damning testimony in the ongoing Operación Puerto trial on Friday.
Schumacher, called to the stand as an expert witness by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), characterized the extraction and re-injection of blood into athletes as a highly dangerous practice.
“Blood transfusions can cause permanent damage to organs or even death,” Schumacher testified, according to the Spanish wire service EFE. When asked by a WADA lawyer if illicit transfusions were an “unnecessary risk and caused serious damage to health,” Schumacher replied, “Absolutely.”
Those declarations undercut the legal foundation for Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, who has argued in part that blood transfusions were used to aid the immune systems of his clients.
Schumacher is an internal specialist and considered a leading expert on blood doping and its effect on athletic performance.
Called to the stand by WADA, one of the joining parties to the Puerto prosecution, Schumacher took aim at Fuentes’ contention that the blood transfusions he carried out were intended to protect the health of his clients.
Schumacher said blood transfusions are highly dangerous under any circumstances and used only as a final alternative in traditional medical practices.
“Blood transfusions cannot fulfill that purpose [helping the immune system] because they represent a danger to the system rather than help it,” Schumacher testified. “One of the major side effects is a negative reaction to the blood.”
Schumacher explained that blood cells begin to die once extracted and the immune system is heavily taxed when blood is re-injected. He said side effects could be severe.
“One reaction would be fever, a feeling of being too hot or too cold, or, if left untreated, it can lead to organ failure,” he continued. “Debris blocked by the organs can even cause death.”
Schumacher also described a condition provoked by autologous transfusions called “related acute lung injury,” when lung tissue reacts to recently transfused blood cells.
“It occurs in one of every thousand transfusions and, in 3 to 5 percent of cases, can be fatal,” he said.
He also questioned the legitimacy of Fuentes’s practices of carrying out extractions in ordinary offices or hotel rooms that were not fully equipped medical clinics.
“A hotel room does not meet the standards of a mobile extraction unit or even a school. And a backpack is not the ideal way to transport bags of blood, because they need to be kept at a constant temperatures,” he said. “A hotel doesn’t have the necessary material if there’s an emergency.”
Schumacher also questioned how Fuentes stored and marked blood bags with code names rather than the patient’s full name, date of extractions and blood types all clearly labeled.
“The bags of blood have to be identified with the name, the blood type and the date,” he said. “In some countries, patients are required to sign the bags. And they should always be transported separately.”
Schumacher also outlined a strict protocol of how blood is extracted and stored: “First, you must examine the patient, then you inform them of the risks and benefits and obtain a signed consent. Then you examine the patient to see if they are fit, whether they have HIV or hepatitis. Then you establish the blood type and then make a bacterial analysis of the blood bag.”
The Puerto trial continues next week with videoconference testimony from Tyler Hamilton on Tuesday and a court appearance by Alberto Contador on Friday.