Blood Banks Worry About Slowdown

Blood donations increased dramatically during the weeks after Sept. 11, but the level has tapered, and blood banks are urging people to continue the spirit.

The nation?s blood supply has increased from the normal three-day to a 10-day supply, but local blood banks are stepping up their promotion efforts because the holiday season is usually a slow time for blood donation. The possibility that the large number of recent donors may be reluctant to give again so soon would also compound the problem.

Adding to the list, the Association of Regional University Pathologists fears the parking and traffic problems related to the Olympics would discourage donors because its collection center is near the University of Utah in Research Park.

?I don?t think people are going to be motivated to drive up here,? said Denise Cumming, community relations director for ARUP. ?The holidays and the Olympics are going to be a challenge for us.?

The day after the terrorist attacks, 170 donors?up from the normal 75?went to the ARUP blood services center. Cumming and the laboratory staff worked overtime to accommodate the influx. Anticipating the eventual drop off in donation, Cumming used the opportunity to build her donor database.

?We?re going to need you next week,? Cumming told the donors. ?Can we call you??

Although the shelf life of blood is 42 days, blood banks still need a continuous supply of donations. Platelets, one blood component, last only five days, and children blood recipients require blood less than five days old. Donated blood is usually separated into three components?red blood cells, plasma and platelets?and each is stored separately and has a different shelf life.

ARUP supplies blood to University Hospital, Primary Children?s Medical Center, Huntsman Cancer Institute and Shriners Hospital for Children. Because of the type of procedures these institutions perform, such as transplants, chemotherapy and treating trauma, the four account for 25 percent of the blood demand in Utah hospitals.

Because ARUP is not licensed to export blood outside of Utah, it did not ship any blood to New York City or Washington, D.C. But the increase in local collection eliminated the need for imported blood, which accounts for 25 percent of ARUP?s supply and may have alleviated shortages elsewhere.

The American Red Cross is the only organization that ships blood nationwide, and it supplies 50 percent of the nation?s demand for blood.

?The other half is supplied by independent outfits like us,? Cumming said.

Blood donations at Utah Red Cross were at 218 percent of the average donations during the first week after the terrorist attacks. Nine hundred donors, compared to the normal 375, flooded the seven mobile collection units and four local centers in Utah, Sept. 12. The staff had to ask donors, who were waiting up to four hours, to schedule appointments. Many of those are now still coming in for their appointments. The current amount of donations remains above normal, at 120 percent.

?After Sept. 11, everyone has had that sense of urgency,? said Judy Christensen, Utah Red Cross communications manager. ?We encourage people to hold on to that.?

The demand for blood in New York City and Washington was lower than expected, and only 5,000 units were shipped from around the country, according to Christensen. The government continued to request increases in collection because of pending military actions.

?In hindsight, we see that we haven?t had a need,? Christensen said.

In response to the request, the Red Cross increased storage by setting up the Strategic Blood Reserve, which has already frozen 4,000 units. Blood?s shelf life is extended to 10 years when frozen.

?I?m not saying we?re low on blood; we?re OK,? Cumming said, but she wanted to raise awareness of their on-going need for donations.

?Nobody knows who we are,? Cumming continued. ?Nobody knows we exist.?

For more information on blood donation, call ARUP at 584-5272 or the Red Cross at 1-800-GiveLife.

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