February 21, 2024

U.S. faces emergency blood shortage

Creston Community School District Superintendent Deron Stendor donates blood during a Red Cross blood drive in 2020.

Emergency blood levels are at a 20-year low after a number of factors have prevented the normal amount of donations.

The American Red Cross shared in a press release Jan. 7 that blood and platelet donations were urgently needed.

“One of the most distressing situations for a doctor is to have a hospital full of patients and an empty refrigerator without any blood products,” Red Cross Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pampee Young said. “A person needs lifesaving blood every two seconds in our country — and its availability can be the difference between life and death, however, blood is only available thanks to the generosity of those who roll up a sleeve to donate.”

Creston’s Greater Regional Health is provided blood by LifeServe Blood Center, which has a blood bank in Des Moines. LifeServe serves 161 hospitals in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Greater Regional Health switched from the Red Cross to LifeServe last July due to proximity of the banks.

“They’re both great organizations and they both do great work, but Des Moines is closer and the Red Cross had to bring blood from Lincoln, Nebraska, so there was a delay,” Suzanne Carlson, a local LifeServe and Red Cross volunteer and coordinator, said. “When somebody had an emergency, we relied on somebody to bring us more blood products very quickly. We can get half the turnaround time from LifeServe. It’s an hour compared to over two hours from Red Cross.”

While getting blood to the hospital quicker can save lives, there’s only so much that can be done with there’s a limited supply of emergency blood.

“There is a blood shortage, and part of that is due to people having influenza and RSV and COVID. Another part is that the weather was so bad and people couldn’t get out,” Carlson said. “A third factor is we had that horrible thing that happened in Perry. When there is a tragedy like that, they literally use gallons of blood, so they depleted the blood supply.”

Blood banks around the United States are looking for more donors to replenish the low supply of emergency blood. Blood type O negative, the universal donor, is critically low. In emergency situations, O negative is normally used rather than taking time to test the patient’s blood type.

While most people picture whole blood being used when they donate, there are a variety of ways donated blood can help a patient.

“There’s red blood cells, white blood cells, there’s platelets, there’s all kinds of cells in there, and when you donate blood, your blood can be separated out and somebody can get whole blood or somebody can get just the platelets,” Carlson said. “You can give a patient white blood cells for people that have cancer and can’t fight off infections. Every time you donate, you’re helping lots of people.”

There are a few requirements for those who want to donate blood. A donor must be in good health, be at least 16 years old (those under 18 must have permission from a guardian) and must weigh at least 110 pounds for the Red Cross or 120 pounds for LifeServe.

“Donating blood is easy and fun and you can literally save people’s lives,” Carlson said. “Most people say they feel very good after they do it because you’re helping people that you’ll never even see.”

The next Red Cross blood drive in Creston will be from noon to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 5 at Trinity Lutheran Church. To schedule an appointment, donors can call or text Carlson at 641-208-0944 or go online to Redcrossblood.org.

The next LiveServe blood drive will be from noon to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 at First Christian Church in Creston. To schedule an appointment, donors can call or text Carlson at 641-208-0944 or go online to LifeServebloodcenter.org.

For a successful donation, make sure to eat iron-rich foods beforehand, drink extra liquids and get a good night’s sleep.

Erin Henze

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin is a recent graduate from UW-Stevens Point. Outside of writing, she loves to read and travel.