Boston Marathon Rescuers Used Tourniquets to Save Lives

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One unexpected device helped hundreds of injured people at the Boston Marathon, as many used belts, shirts and other fabric to make a tourniquet.

The tourniquet has been used since 199 B.C., but has recently been eradicated after the medical community questioned if they were worth the trouble.

"Some people saw them as lifesaving, and others said they were the instrument of the devil," Dr. John F. Kragh Jr., an orthopedic surgeon, said. 

Many modern medical staff have grown reluctant to use tourniquets after some believed they could lead to amputations, as it cuts off blood and oxygen to the limbs.

"There are a number of ways to mess it up," Kragh said. 

"In Vietnam, tourniquets were not typically used because it was thought they led to many amputations."

But many of those tourniquets failed because they were placed too high above the injury, leading to unnecessary loss of tissue. 

The American Red Cross said it should be used as a last resort to stop severe bleeding.

After many studies were published from the Iraq war showing that tourniquets could raise survival rates as high as 90 percent, the medical community started changing its mind about the device.

Yet the Red Cross still warns that the device could be used improperly.

"Clearly, if a leg is blown off, it's OK to go straight to tourniquet," Dr. Richard Bradley said. 

For less extreme situations, the Red Cross says to apply direct pressure to the wound.

Ideally, tourniquets should be at least 1 1/2 inches wide and pulled tight to shut off blood flow. 

Bradley said if possible, it is best to use a real tourniquet from a medical supply company, but during emergencies, it is unlikely. 

Most people using tourniquets in the Boston Marathon had makeshift tourniquets.

"Is lanyard better than nothing? Probably," Bradley said, as many used neck lanyards to stop blood flow. 

Sources: Fox News, USA Today