Critical shortages are happening right now
By Sue Baldani
Donating blood is one of the easiest ways to help others survive traumas, have access to the operations they need, and save lives when their own bodies cannot produce enough to sustain them. It’s simply a matter of making an appointment, visiting a blood bank or blood drive, and receiving a quick and tiny prick in the arm. Then, just lay back and relax.
Now, it’s more important than ever to give. According to the Red Cross, there always seems to be a blood shortage, not just here but everywhere, but it’s been more extreme now than in the past. This is partly due to COVID eliminating many potential donors, as well as staffing shortages to host the drives. Yet, the need for blood remains constant.
“I’ve never seen a shortage like this,” says Dr. Lynn Samuel, pathologist and Fauquier Health Wound Healing Center medical director. “It’s been so severe and there was a point where our usual inventory was significantly diminished.”
Plasma and platelets are also needed. “I know the platelets we’ve been getting have been very short dated, so we get them in and they sometimes can expire that day,” says laboratory administrative director at Fauquier Health, Kelly Yoder. “Samuel Mukasa, a clinical blood bank specialist, told me that in his 30 years of blood banking experience, this is the lowest point he’s ever seen.” This has also led to a limit on elective surgeries.
Donations are used for a multitude of reasons in addition to operations and injuries. “A patient may have a chronic anemia problem, or another may need platelets because his own body isn’t able to make them or has been consuming them at a rapid rate.”
Dave Russell is one of these patients, and he has been severely affected by the shortage of blood. “He has multiple myeloma, cancer of the blood marrow,” says his wife, Angie. “In the month of December alone, Dave received eight units of blood, and during this last week in the hospital [in March], he has had at least that, plus another eight or so units of platelets.”
She says there have been times when there just wasn’t any blood available to give him, which has had significant negative impacts on his health. “And it’s not just Dave – how many other people need blood that they just can’t have?” says Angie. “I don’t think people realize that there is a blood shortage. They’re thinking, ‘Well we’re not in a war,’ or ‘No big catastrophes have happened.’ That’s when people think it’s the time to give.”
She encourages people to donate now and donate as often as they can, because blood is needed all the time. “It’s scary to hear ‘Sorry, Mr. Russell, but we’re not able to do your transfusion because we don’t have any blood,’” she says. “He needs blood to sustain his body and platelets to prevent bleeding.”
“Since everyone can accept O negative blood, which is the universal donor type, that’s our go-to for an emergency, and that was the blood type that was particularly short during this recent crisis,” says Dr. Samuel.
The Red Cross is quick and efficient and tries to get donors in and out as fast as possible, and Rapid Pass helps the process go ever faster. “I used it the last time I donated and it saved a lot of time,” says Yoder. People aged 16 and up, who are in good health and weigh at least 110 pounds, can donate blood every 56 days, or up to 6 times a year. Platelets can be donated every 7 days, or up to 24 times per year.
Appointments are required and people can visit redcrossblood.org and follow these steps:
- Type in your zip code in the top right corner to find a drive near you and make your appointment to donate.
- Under the ‘Donate Blood’ tab, find ‘Eligibility Requirements’ to learn if you are eligible. Some of these have changed over the years so if you have not been able to donate before for any reason, you are encouraged to check again and see if you are now eligible.
- Under the ‘Donate Blood’ tab, find “What to Do Before, During, and After Your Donation” to ensure you are prepared for your appointment and have a lower risk of deferral.
So, take the time to schedule an appointment and donate. You’ll be helping patients like Dave and many others, and you never know when you or one of your family members will also benefit from this selfless act.
Written for Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.