How Doctors on Earth Fixed the World's First Known Blood Clot in Space

The case saw NASA bring in a non-NASA physician blood clot expert.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Plenty of things can go wrong in space, and quite often, they do. Luckily there is a team of experts at NASA that is constantly looking for solutions to these problems, and most often then not, they find them.


A first in space

Such was the case, when the agency discovered a blood clot, or a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in one of their astronauts in space. The details of how the agency handled this remarkable incident have now been released, and the intervention is indeed impressive.

Both the identity of the astronaut and the timing of the mission have been kept private to protect the astronaut's privacy, but the story truly is fascinating. The potentially dangerous blood clot was detected during a vascular study of 11 astronauts.

It was found two months into a six months mission and was confirmed by a second ultrasound, guided in real-time from radiologists on the ground. NASA was aghast.

This was, after all, the first blood clot ever encountered in zero gravity, and there were no doctors aboard to treat it. So, NASA brought in a non-NASA physician expert to help with the case.

Stephan Moll, M.D. is a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine at Chapel Hill and a blood clot expert. 

“My first reaction when NASA reached out to me was to ask if I could visit the International Space Station (ISS) to examine the patient myself,” said in a statement Moll. “NASA told me they couldn’t get me up to space quickly enough, so I proceeded with the evaluation and treatment process from here in Chapel Hill.”

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A course of treatment

Together with the NASA team, Moll decided that blood thinners were the best course of action. However, they were limited by the amount of medications available on the International Space Station.

As such, Moll helped NASA figure out how to ration the space station's stock of blood thinners to offer an effective treatment while the astronaut waited for NASA to launch a new shipment of the drugs. The whole treatment process lasted more than 90 days.

Impressively enough, during that time, the astronaut continued to conduct ultrasounds on his/her neck aided just like the first time, from radiologists on Earth. In the end, all worked out well, and the astronaut made a full recovery.

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