Area blood donors buck U.S. trend by returning
Nevada County residents continue to donate blood on a regular basis, bucking a national trend that has seen blood supplies dwindle to pre-Sept. 11 levels and create spot shortages.
“A lot of people here are coming in a second time after the first donation around the 11th,” said Anne O’Grady, a registered nurse who works for the Sacramento Medical Foundation blood banks in Auburn and Grass Valley.
Blood supplies always drop in the winter, when snowstorms, flu and holidays hinder regular donors from giving. Blood banks hoped this winter would be different after hundreds of thousands lined up to donate after the attacks. Instead, supplies are tightening again. Stocks of O-negative, the only blood type everyone can use, are especially worrisome.
”We’re seeing a trickle” of Sept. 11 donors return, adds Jim McPherson of America’s Blood Centers, whose member blood banks supply about half the nation’s blood. ”It’s a little disheartening.”
Some potential donors tell blood banks they don’t see the need to give again unless there’s an emergency. That’s a dangerous misconception. Emergencies happen every day. A single car crash can require 50 units of blood. A California blood bank just reported using its entire inventory to deal with 21 car crashes in a single day due to bad fog.
Some blood banks also report calls from donors angry that the Red Cross threw away 49,000 pints collected after the Sept. 11 attacks and wondering why they should donate again.
O’Grady said the Sacramento Medical Foundation, which supplies blood to over 40 hospitals in Northern California, had to throw away very little of the blood it collected. “We wasted less than 1 percent because we controlled the flow by canceling appointments,” she said.
The Red Cross’ Dr. Jerry Squires says such complaints are rare and that people must understand 49,000 excess units is a small fraction of the millions collected each year. Red blood cells last only 42 days, so regular, repeated donations are necessary.
John Zwerver, executive director of the Grass Valley chapter, said that blood is only thrown out after components of it are used.
“Everyone of those units was used in some way before what was left was thrown away,” Zwerver said. He added that his office gets a few calls a day asking, “‘Why can’t you use the blood?’ The truth was no one knew how many people were injured (in the terrorist attacks). The hope was more people would be rescued.”
The Red Cross recently increased its capacity to store blood by freezing it, enabling it to take in more blood and storing it for longer periods of time, he said. The organization supplies more than half the blood around the nation, Zwerver said.
No one has tracked exactly how many Sept. 11 donors have returned. But experts say it’s easy to see that only a fraction have: Government monitoring concludes supplies that jumped 33 percent are now largely back to pre-attack levels – and those levels were so tight that many areas routinely experienced shortages.
”We’re back to begging for volunteer blood donors,” Joyce Halvorsen of the Community Blood Bank in Lincoln, Neb., says with a sigh.
Today, about a third of America’s Blood members are appealing for donations because they have a day’s supply or less of certain blood types. The American Red Cross, which supplies the other half of the nation’s blood, contends it’s doing better this winter than last, but acknowledges it has only a one- or two-day supply of crucial Type O-negative blood, too little for comfort.
Many Americans don’t understand that blood must be regularly replenished so enough is on hand when emergency strikes.
Donating after disaster won’t help the first victims because required safety testing takes a few days.
— People can donate once every 56 days.
— Even if you’ve never donated before, starting is especially important during the winter, when colds, flu or bad weather sideline many longtime donors.
u When bad winter weather strikes, donate blood as soon as it is safe to drive to your local blood bank. Snow- and icestorms are times when blood is used rapidly.
— If weather or illness prevents you from donating, call your blood bank to reschedule an appointment.
By Grace Karpa and the Associated Press
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