A donation shortfall over the winter holidays is prompting the American Red Cross to issue an emergency call for blood donors to give now to prevent a blood shortage from continuing throughout winter and affecting patient care.
The Red Cross collected more than 27,000 fewer blood and platelet donations the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s than needed to sustain a sufficient blood supply. During this period, about 1,350 fewer blood drives were hosted by volunteer sponsor groups than required to meet patient needs as busy holiday schedules kept many donors away.
“Many people may not realize that blood products are perishable, and the only source of lifesaving blood for patients is volunteer blood donors,” said Cliff Numark, senior vice president, Red Cross Biomedical Services. “When donations decline – as they did around the holidays and may further decline if severe winter weather and flu season pick up – lifesaving medical treatments could be delayed.”
Right now, the Red Cross has less than a three-day supply of most blood types on hand, well below the ideal five-day supply needed to respond to emergencies and daily hospital needs. Blood products are currently being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in.
“We hope people can resolve to save lives now – when there is an emergency need – as well as throughout the year,” added Numark.
All eligible donors, especially blood donors with type O blood, are urged to make an appointment to give in the coming days to help restock the shelves for hospital patients.
[Editor’s note: This story published on Jan. 17, 2019, in our print edition but was delayed in being posted online due to technical issues.]
With several weeks of winter ahead, severe winter weather poses an additional threat to an already low blood supply. Snow, ice and extreme temperatures last January and February forced hundreds of blood drive cancellations, causing about 23,000 blood and platelet donations to go uncollected. In December, winter weather resulted in nearly twice the number of uncollected blood and platelet donations as December 2017.
Who blood donations help
In May 2018, 4-year-old Branson Gibby was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer that affects certain types of nerve tissue after complaining of pain in his arms and legs and running a fever. After many tests, his mother, Erica Austin, was given the news that no mother ever wants to hear: her son had cancer.
Branson’s 18-month treatment plan includes many rounds of grueling chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor near his kidney and spinal cord, stem cell transplants, and possibly radiation. He has already endured several lengthy hospital stays and began receiving the first of his stem cell transplants this fall.
Since his diagnosis, Branson has received 12 blood and 11 platelet transfusions. Of the transfusions, Austin said, “They have been so important to keep him as healthy, active and battle-ready, as possible. This is the hardest thing our family has ever faced. However, there is hope in the generosity of strangers who are helping to heal my brave boy. Blood and platelet donations truly are the gift of life.”
Upcoming blood donation opportunity
The next currently scheduled Red Cross blood drive will be 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Lewisburg High School, 1755 Craft Road, Olive Branch, Miss.
How to donate blood
Simply download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.
A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Blood Donor App.