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Health & Science

National Blood Supply Dangerously Low, Says Red Cross

Blood Drive at the Rayburn House Building Capitol Hill 2017
Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American R
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June 22, 2017. Rayburn House Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. American Red Cross hosts a blood drive at the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress and staff roll up a sleeve in honor of Representative Steve Scalise and those wounded during a terrible shooting on June 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia. Jefferson Deming donates blood during the event. Photos by Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American Red Cross

The need for blood donations is at a critical level nationwide, according to the American Red Cross. Eric Douglas spoke with Erica Mani, the CEO of the Central Appalachian region, to find out what is causing the shortage.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Douglas: It seems like there are always these kinds of drives every summer. So is this a real emergency? And why is this a real emergency?

EricaHeadShot.jpg
Eric Mani, CEO of the Central Appalachian region of the American Red Cross.

Mani: It is not atypical to have blood shortages. In the summer, up to about 80 percent of our blood drive sponsors are not available, plus donors are on vacation, and they have other things that they're prioritizing in those summer months. So to have a regular shortage is pretty common at this time of year as well as around the holidays.

But this year, it's compounded for a couple of reasons. One, the hospitals are seeing an increased demand not only in traumas, but also in elective surgeries, because they were delayed during the pandemic. Also, we're seeing disease progression that now requires more blood because of the prolonged delay on those surgeries.

Douglas: Because of the pandemic, people weren't going to see their doctors. And now that they are going back to see the doctors their conditions have gotten worse to the point that they actually need more blood.

Mani: We know we're going to have these challenges. But then coupled with this increased need at the hospitals, it creates a situation where we have less than a half day's supply of blood on the shelves. It becomes critical. One car accident can require an individual to need up to 100 units of blood. So just one incident like that and you can see how much blood is necessary.

Douglas: Give me an idea of the scale of the problem. What is a day's supply of blood?

Mani: We are a national blood supplier. In fact, we (the American Red Cross) are the largest supplier of blood throughout the country. We supply about 40 percent of the nation's blood supply for approximately 2,500 hospitals across the country. In order to keep up with that demand, we have to receive and collect over 12,500 units of blood on a daily basis. This current need is going to require that we collect an additional at least 1,000 units every day on top of that. So that's a huge task because it's a huge task to begin with.

We have to ask people to come out and give more. Only three percent of eligible Americans give blood. It is a Herculean task to get people out there. And frankly there are a lot of people who have never donated blood that we need to inspire now to come out and donate blood.

Douglas: For perspective, 12,500 units a day is the supply nationwide. And your goal is to build up a reservoir by collecting 13,500 units a day nationwide. What's the local need?

Mani: If we were going to ballpark the specific need within this region, which encompasses all of West Virginia, and parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia, we would be talking, let's just call it for ease about 10 percent.

Douglas: So, 1,350 units of blood for this region alone?

Mani: Yes, we need to be looking at that. And making sure that not only we're collecting that, but distributing it here and to our neighboring states.

Douglas: How long does a pint of blood last? How long can it sit on the shelf?

Mani: A blood donation only lasts 42 days, and platelets are actually five days. So we're constantly replenishing. People may ask, “If you know there's a shortage coming, why didn't you stockpile?” Well, we can stockpile, but only so much when you only have so many days that you can actually have the blood on the shelf.

Douglas: Are there any blood types that are in particular demand, or do you just need everything?

Mani: We need everything, but type O blood is the most commonly used or needed. And that's for a couple of reasons. One, O negative blood is the universal donor. So people with O negative blood can provide that and anybody can use it. And then O positive is the most common blood type. So obviously, it is one of the most needed. Forty-five percent of the blood used is going to be O blood, whether its own negative or positive.

Everyone who donates blood by July 31 will receive a $10 Amazon.com gift card by email and will also receive automatic entry for a chance to win gas for a year — a $5,000 value. More information and details are available at rcblood.org/fuel.

Also, all those who come to donate throughout the entire month of July will be automatically entered for a chance to win a trip for four to Cedar Point or Knott’s Berry Farm. To learn more, visit rcblood.org/CedarFair.

Those who are interested may schedule an appointment to give blood by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device.


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