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As summer months drain blood supply, donors are sought

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 1:25 p.m. MDT

Alan Kuehn is helped by Ashley Moulton of American Red Cross as he donates blood in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Alan Kuehn is helped by Ashley Moulton of American Red Cross as he donates blood in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The American Red Cross issued a call for blood and platelet donors of all types Tuesday, following a monthlong shortage of donations.

Nationwide, blood donations to the Red Cross dropped 10 percent from May to June, a seasonal drop resulting in about 50,000 fewer donations than the Red Cross seeks to fill blood needs. Additionally, the midweek Independence Day holiday reduced the number of blood drives scheduled in July, said John Petersen, communications program manager for the Red Cross in Salt Lake City.

“We are counting on generous volunteer blood and platelet donors to step up and give now,” said Julia Wulf, chief executive officer for the Red Cross Blood Services Region. “Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Each day donations come up short, less blood is available for these patients in need.”

Andy Rafn prepares blood for shipment at American Red Cross in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Andy Rafn prepares blood for shipment at American Red Cross in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Petersen said the decline of donations can be attributed to summer schedule shifts. As people leave for vacations and as high school and college students disperse, fewer people stick to their regular routines and set aside time to donate blood.

“We rely on high schools and colleges for about 20 percent of the blood that we collect,” he said. “Donations from those who usually give at these drives drop by more than 80 percent when school is out for the summer.”

Chris Klein of the Red Cross said it’s unfortunate that while people are out having fun, camping, hiking and taking vacations, they forget the need for blood donations.

“The people that get in accidents and need blood for various reasons don’t get to take the summer off,” Klein said. “The blood always needs to be there, and unfortunately blood doesn’t last forever on the shelf, so we need to collect it all year long.”

Donated blood is processed at American Red Cross in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Donated blood is processed at American Red Cross in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Last year, Red Cross blood donations saw the same drop.

“The need for blood is constant, even in summer when people are distracted by other activities,” Petersen said “Cancer patients, accident victims, and surgeries are still going on even while some of us are having our family vacations, so we still need people to come in.”

Jenny Azcuenaga of South Jordan, a regular blood donor, dabbed her eyes after completing her blood donation, remembering her mother who had died of cancer and how much she was in need of blood products.

She said people don’t realize the need unless they see it for themselves, like she did when her mother underwent treatment.

“Just seeing the color in their faces when they get it, you see how much they need it,” she said. “Until you know someone, it doesn’t seem that important.”

Chris Klein is helped by Cianna Brown of American Red Cross as he donates blood in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Chris Klein is helped by Cianna Brown of American Red Cross as he donates blood in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Petersen said Utah’s Red Cross needs about 440 blood donors every day to ensure an adequate blood supply is available for the 31 local hospitals that rely on the Red Cross’s blood services.

“It has to be ready when you need it,” he said.

While all blood types are sought, blood types O-negative, B-negative and A-negative are especially in need, Petersen said.

Additionally, the Red Cross is facing an urgent need for platelets, key-clotting components of blood often needed by cancer patients, but are often difficult to maintain a steady supply since the donations must be transfused within five days, he said.

Due to Food and Drug Administration stipulations that restrict blood donor qualifications based on health and lifestyle, only about 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, Petersen said.

Chris Klein jokes with Cianna Brown of American Red Cross as he donates blood in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Chris Klein jokes with Cianna Brown of American Red Cross as he donates blood in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

“Out of that 38 percent, only 8 percent actually do donate,” he said. “So we would like to see if that could be increased 9 or 10 percent. That would really make it easier for everyone.”

The Red Cross welcomes walk-in donors, but appointments can be made by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or visiting www.redcrossblood.org, Petersen said.

“We would just like to see people who haven’t ever donated blood before to give it a try,” Petersen said. “It’s relatively easy, it only takes 45 to 60 minutes, it’s not an unpleasant process, and it’s a chance to save lives.”

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

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