Red Cross Appeals for Blood Donations

by Lisa McChristian
       Every ten seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.
        In fact 95 percent of all Americans will need a blood transfusion or blood product during their lifetime. Despite this extraordinary level of need. U.S. hospitals can no longer guarantee they will have the blood supplies necessary for patients. Though growing ever more acute, most people don’t consider the shortage a pressing problem until it comes to them and affects a loved one.
        In a recent study, the National Blood Data Resource Center predicted that next year Americans will donate under 11.7 million units of blood, but hospitals will need more than 11.9 million units. Every unit (equivalent to a pint) of whole blood is separated into different components and used in the treatment of three to four patients.
        Each year, blood donations decrease by one percent, but demand increases by one percent. This might not sound like much, but the slowly increasing supply deficit is enough to worry those in health professions.
        Sixty percent of Americans are eligible donors but only five percent donate. Adding to the pressure of getting donors, the U.S. government will soon ban citizens from giving blood if they have traveled to Great Britain in the last six months. The ban follows the epidemic of mad cow disease. The disease, which first appeared in 1980, has been linked to a human brain destroyer but there is no conclusive evidence that the cow disease can be transmitted through human blood. Still, government officials are taking this precaution to ease fears about the safety of blood supply.
        More than half of the donated blood in the United States is used for trauma victims in emergency rooms and surgery patients. A heart-bypass patient can use blood from up to eight donors, and more than 1,200 bypass surgeries are performed daily in the U.S. Other frequent recipients of blood donations include premature infants, cancer patients, and hemophiliacs.
        Baltimore is part of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross, which supplies 84 area hospitals. The organization seeks to collect 1,300 units of blood a day and has a goal of maintaining a three-day supply of each blood type. However, currently, there is less than a half-day’s supply of Types O and Types B blood.
        “Baltimore’s a very community-minded city,” said local Red Cross Spokesperson Patrick Smith. “We really need Baltimore to come through for us now.”
        Dr. Paul Ness, director of transfusion medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital and chief executive of the Red Cross Chesapeake and Potomac Region, said Baltimore is not self sufficient with blood. “If there were a major event that occurred, we wouldn’t have the blood to take care of it,” said Ness.
        One reason for this lack of self-sufficiency is that Baltimore is a medically intensive area and must import blood from outside the metro area. Baltimore is the home to more than 10 major hospitals, including, Good Samaritan, Sinai, St. Agnes, University of Maryland Medical, Maryland General, and Johns Hopkins.
        Many other cities also experience shortages during the summer months and holidays because regular donors go on vacation. A large portion of the active blood donor base are high school and college students who give blood during the academic year.
        As the U.S. population grows older and requires more blood-intensive surgeries like organ transplantation or bypass surgery, year-long blood shortages in urban areas can be expected to be the norm. Urban populations like Baltimore’s donate less frequently than the other areas.
        The government is so concerned about the nationwide shortage that Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher has a committee looking for ways to get more people to donate blood more often. Suggested incentives include time away from work, small gifts like t-shirts, or using celebrity endorsements.
        Local radio personalities Kenny and Jo Jo from Mix 106.5 recently helped out the American Red Cross by sponsoring a blood drive in downtown Annapolis. The pair hyped the drive through advertisements on the station.
        Another potential donor source may come from those who previously were not allowed to donate. For example, a federal committee on blood issues has recommended using blood from people with a genetic disease called hemochromatosis, which causes them to build up too much iron in their systems. Giving blood removes the excess iron. Their blood is healthy but right now it is disposed of because it is part of a medical treatment the patients pay for. Donations to the Red Cross must be altruistic--given free of charge.
        Donors must be at least 17 years of age and weigh at least 110 pounds. The donation process takes a half an hour, including registration, donation, and time in the canteen afterward. A nurse sterilizes your arm and takes a pint of blood. A person’s body contains 10 to 12 pints of blood, so having a nurse remove 1 pint should not cause any noticeable physical affects. A healthy donor can give every 56 days.
        The new Red Cross Donor Express program makes it possible for groups as small as ten members to schedule blood drives. These groups are visited by Donor Express vans staffed with nurses and phlebotomists.
        Possible Baltimore donation locations are American Red Cross Headquarters on Mt. Hope Drive, (410) 7674-4622; Columbia Donor Center, (410) 997-1288; Bel Air Donor Center, (410) 877-7609; Glen Burnie Donor Center, (410) 768-4461; Lutherville Donor Center, (410) 583-9756; and White Marsh Donor Center, (410) 931-6977.
        For more information about donating blood call 1-800-GIVE-BLOOD.

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This story was published on August 4, 1999.