Red Cross asks for donations to help alleviate shortage

Leslie Arntz

Even though it was her day off from working in the emergency room, Becki Dunn was back at the hospital.

Instead of suiting up for her job, she joined the steady trickle of donors moving from behind blue partitions to sit and wait with their bags and vials in hand. One by one, white-coated technicians called them over and asked if they preferred the left or right arm.

The American Red Cross set up shop at Robinson Memorial Hospital Wednesday afternoon for a special Type O drive. Many previous donors were called in for the drive, but any walk-ins were welcome, regardless of blood type.

The Red Cross isn’t picky. It needs as many pints as it can get.

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Local blood supplies have hit an all-time low according to the Northern Ohio Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross.

Jenny Popis, a regional spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said seven of the eight blood types are below the minimum inventory standard. She said the supplies are so low there is a “transfuse only” order on types O positive, O negative, A negative, B negative and AB negative.

That means hospitals can only order blood for specific patients for anticipated needs such as surgeries. There may not be blood available for emergencies.

When there is a “transfuse only” order, it is usually for only one blood type. But as many as six of the blood types have been restricted this week. Popis said she anticipates A positive to join the list soon.

According to a press release issued by the Northern Ohio Blood Services region earlier this week, a number of recent trauma patients in the region have contributed to the shortage.

“While many have responded to our request for donors, the need for blood continues to surpass the donations received,” she said.

On Sept. 11, the Red Cross held a blood drive at Kent State — 383 students showed up, including 158 first-time donors.

“However, the blood collected at that drive has already been shipped to hospitals and used to help patients,” Popis said.

In September alone, the local Red Cross fell short of its collection goal by 1,280 pints, Popis said. Usually, there is a goal of 900 units a day to meet the needs of 57 Northern Ohio hospitals.

Lab director Larry Walker said staff wasn’t feeling any strain from the shortage even though Robinson Memorial orders its blood solely from the Red Cross.

“We’re experiencing a shortage, they’ll be feeling it as well,” Popis said. “We’re low on all levels. Somebody out there will need it.”

Last year Robinson Memorial transfused 3,331 units of blood, 901 units of plasma, 255 units of platelets and 36 units of cryoprecipitate.

Wednesday morning there were 76 units of red cells sitting in the blood bank’s blue stainless steel refrigerators. Walker said the hospital always has the minimum stock needed.

“The Red Cross is always short,” he said. “Always in emergency blood shortage.”

To make sure there is enough blood on hand for surgeries, Walker said hospitals have to bargain with collection agencies. Often, hospitals ask for more units to ensure they receive what they actually need.

But the Red Cross is struggling to keep up with meeting these regular orders .

“We’re experiencing a shortage, they’ll be feeling it as well,” Popis said. “We’re low on all levels. Somebody out there will need it.”

If the local Red Cross cannot fill a request, it will turn to other regions for the blood — regions struggling to meet their own needs.

“People assume blood will be there when they need it,” Popis said. “(I hope they) step up and sense the urgency.”

She said only 38 percent of the population is available and eligible to donate, but few do.

Dunn said she thinks a lack of education about donation may be a reason why.

“A lot of people still think they can get something from donating — like AIDS,” she said. “Others don’t want to take the time.”

Wednesday, Dunn brought along her daughter, Nichole Starkey. Dunn said she was proud when her daughter came home from school with her arm bandaged the first time and is glad she’s donating again.

As she took a seat on the bed in front of her mother, Starkey told her mom about how the technician commented on her high iron count — the only thing that has stopped Dunn from donating the last five times she has tried. This time, Dunn’s levels were fine.

Once on a table, the technician had trouble finding a vein in Dunn’s left arm, but a little prodding delivered one in the right. Wednesday was Dunn’s third successful time donating. She said she’s lost track of the number of attempts.

Larry Legros, a Deerfield resident, has been donating for about 20 years. His donor card listed 21 lifetime units.

Legros intended to give a double red cell donation at Robinson Memorial, but he had already given too much this year.

In a double red donation, a machine takes the blood collected from a patient’s arm, separates the red cells and returns the other blood components back to the donor. This process allows double the number of red cells normally collected.

Regardless, one unit of blood would still go a long way.

“It’s the thing to do,” Legros said. “I hope that if I would need it, someone would donate it for me.”

Contact public affairs reporter Leslie Arntz at [email protected].