Summer holidays mean blood shortages for Utah Red Cross

Published: Saturday, July 7 2012 4:53 p.m. MDT

Jamie Rossborough of Salt Lake City donates blood with the help of phlebotomist Natasha Williams at the American Red Cross Salt Lake Donor Center on Friday, July 6, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

MURRAY — Howard Mark Bradshaw is not a household name and his night job as a computer programmer might go unnoticed by most.

But his bi-weekly afternoon routine could have many people calling him a lifesaver.

The 60-year old Bradshaw, who was a volunteer for the Army, has been donating blood for 30 years, and for the last 15 years he has been donating platelets.

He sits in a donation chair for 90-minute sessions every other week.

"To give platelets it takes an hour and a half of needles in you," he said. "And most people won't do that. So there is a shortage of platelets and if you don't give platelets, the people who have leukemia and who are in chemotherapy will die."

Platelets are small, colorless cell fragments in blood that cancer patients require for recovery. The special type of transfusion only has a five-day shelf life. But like most donations, it is lacking in quantity.

The American Red Cross, nationally and statewide, was in a drought this week — something they worry about every time there's a holiday.

"This week has been a tough week for us," Judy Christensen, the director of communications for the American Red Cross Salt Lake Donor Center, said Friday. "We have had half of our usual donations for a normal week."

The Utah Red Cross usually receives 2,200 donations a week, according to Christensen. However, that number gets cut in half when there is a holiday. The numbers also go down in the summer and the stretch between Thanksgiving and the end of the year because people are away on vacation.

The donor center is especially cautious and concerned that it will not meet its quota with Pioneer Day approaching on July 24.

If the quota of blood is not met, then the state could request a shipment of blood from other donation centers nationwide.

Without enough blood, the worst-case scenario, according to Christensen, would be that hospitals would consider canceling elective surgeries.

Patients don't have the luxury to wait for the blood to be on the hospital shelves, she said. Blood donations take two days to test and be split into red blood cells and plasma.

For example, a person can donate whole blood six times a year, that is both red blood cells and plasma, and one donation equals one unit. An accident victim usually requires four to 40 units of red blood cells, and a person going into elective surgery, such as a knee replacement, requires two units of red blood cells.

The center receives roughly 10 percent of Utah Red Cross donations with the rest coming from blood drives from blood mobiles, churches and schools. The Red Cross supplies 50 percent of the nation's blood donations.

Shaunté Saldivar, a phlebotomist for the donor center, said most people who donate have had family in need of blood, and that becomes a constant reminder of the importance of donating.

She also explained how the nation could solve the blood shortage.

"If all the eligible donors would donate on a regular basis, we would never have a shortage," Saldivar said. "Some people don't donate for years, some once a year, but if they would continue to donate every two months, when they are eligible, we would never have a shortage."

On Friday, paramedic Jamie Rossborough was donating two units of red blood cells, which he can only do three times a year. As a paramedic, he has seen the need for blood donations.

"We will give $5 or $10 for someone overseas or some military family, which is great, but the most important thing in this society is that we need blood for our trauma patients," Rossborough said.

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