NORTH CAROLINA — One of NASA’s astronauts had a medical emergency in space, a blood clot, but this had never happened before and NASA did not know what to do.
So, they turned to Dr. Stephen Moll from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for help.
As a kid, Moll wanted to be an astronaut, so he said when NASA called he was a little moon-eyed.
“So, I picked up the phone and NASA was on the phone and said it was urgent,” Moll said. “It was surprising. It was an honor. I was curious where that would lead.”
It would lead to the International Space Station, where an astronaut had a blood clot in the jugular vein. Moll is considered an expert when it comes to blood clots, having published in several medical journals.
This was the first blood clot case in space and NASA had no protocol.
“So all the decisions that had to be made were best guesses,” Moll said.
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Moll said he couldn’t help but ask, would NASA send him to the station to examine the patient himself?
“So I should be taken up there,” Moll said. “And, their response was ‘We’ll see what we can do and we’ll get back to you.’”
Moll remained earthbound while consulting a team of NASA doctors. If the clot was not treated, it could spread to the lungs or brain and become far more serious.
The typical treatment on Earth is blood thinners. But, how would they work in zero gravity?
“So, I needed to weigh the risk-benefit of starting a blood thinner or not using a blood thinner,” Moll said.
He and the team agreed to put the astronaut on blood thinners with Moll directing the dosage. The space station only had a limited supply, but the treatment worked.
Moll was even able to get a phone call from his patient at the International Space Station.
“My wife picked up and it was the International Space Station and she handed the phone to me and saying ‘There is someone from outer space who wants to talk to you,’” Moll said.
The astronaut is now back on Earth and doing well.
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