07/17/06 — Red Cross faces seasonal shortage of blood in region

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Red Cross faces seasonal shortage of blood in region

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on July 17, 2006 1:46 PM

Blood supplies across the nation are at critically low levels, Red Cross officials say, even though the shortage has not directly affected Wayne County yet.

To help replenish the supply, the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross has put out an appeal for more donors at its summer bloodmobiles.

Blood Services Director Samia Garner said summer is the hardest time of year for the Red Cross to get donors.

"It's beautiful weather outside, and people are out working in their gardens or on vacation," she said.

With more people going on vacation, summer is also the time when more accidents happen and that means more blood is needed.

"People get busy and say they'll donate later," Mrs. Garner said. "Unfortunately, diseases, accidents and cancers don't wait to happen later. Those things are there every day."

She said even though the blood supply gets low this time every year, this year the shortage began sooner.

"Typically we start seeing a shortage around Memorial Day," she said. "But this year we were having problems about four or five weeks before that. We have been at the critical level, which means less than a day's supply of blood on hand. A normal amount is a three-day supply of blood on the shelves. Then, if there is an immediate need for blood, it's there."

Mrs. Garner said when the supply gets too low, hospitals have to cancel elective surgeries.

Wayne Memorial Hospital has not had to cancel any surgeries yet, said Amy Cain, public relations director. "No one has indicated to me that we expect to do that," she said.

Mrs. Garner said that a person's decision to donate blood this summer could be the difference between life and death for someone who is hurt in an automobile accident or needs lifesaving surgery at one of the other 103 hospitals supported by the Carolinas Blood Services Region, of which Wayne County is a member.

"All we're asking for is one hour of a person's time every eight weeks," she said. "We waste more time than that. You don't have to rush into a fire to pull someone out or jump into an ocean to save someone who's drowning. You just have to roll your sleeve up and give a pint of blood. That unit of blood can save up to three people's lives. And not only does it touch those three lives, but the lives of everyone connected with them."

The donation process takes about an hour. Donors are given some information to read about what to expect and donor guidelines. A short medical history is taken and is completely confidential.

A finger is pricked to check iron levels. Blood pressure and temperature also are taken.

If all those tests check out, said Mrs. Garner, a donor is given a blood collection bag and goes to a waiting area.

Once in the chair, the nurse inserts a needle into the donor's vein and blood is taken. That process usually takes anywhere from four to 10 minutes, Mrs. Garner said.

She said the staff is very proficient at taking the blood. "The worst pain you are going to feel is a tiny pinch. Have you ever stubbed your toe so hard that you've seen stars? Well, giving blood is not even close to being that painful. And you survived the toe stub."

After donating blood, donors go to the canteen where they receive a snack and a drink and wait for about 15 minutes to make sure they are OK.

"That's where all the fun is," Mrs. Garner said. "You get prizes and free coupons there."

Mrs. Garner said many people have a fear of giving blood. "It's truly a fear of the unknown, like when you're a child and you're so afraid of that monster that lurks in the dark closet. But the day you realized that the monster wasn't there, that fear was gone."

If you have a question about your eligibility to give blood, you may call the donor counseling office at 1-866-562-7156. The call is confidential, and you don't have to give your name.

"Your blood donation is a priceless gift that will mean more than you can ever imagine," Mrs. Garner said.