The Red Cross Is Suffering With A Major Blood Shortage — Here’s Why And How You Can Help

July 14, 2016  |  

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I’m sure you already have your summer all planned out. You aim to do some traveling, hit up some festivals, relax on the beach and attend as many day parties as possible. But in the midst of making the most of this season, the Red Cross is asking that you make time to donate blood. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the organization’s inventory is getting low, and nothing is more of a downer than people in need of blood who can’t access the type they need to save their life.

We talked with Red Cross EVP Chris Hrouda about this shortage, why the summer is the worst time of year for the organization, which group of people they usually rely on, and what you and I can do to help.

MadameNoire: Why is summer such a hard time for blood donations? 

Chris Hrouda: Summer is usually a very challenging time for us, and it’s really about access to donors. Folks are busy in the summer; they’re enjoying their vacation time, they’re out doing summer activities. We just came off the Fourth of July for example, and a lot of folks weren’t available to donate blood, so we’re particularly short from that.

You add to that that about 20 percent of our blood donations annually come from students that are in college and high schools and we just don’t have access to those donors in the summer. Our donor base really takes a hit in the summer and it’s really difficult for us to make up the difference.

MN: Why is there usually such a large contribution from young people in high school and college?

Hrouda: College campuses and high schools are usually very community active, and blood donation is typically an important part of their community activism. So we have blood drives at high schools all over the country, and we certainly have blood drives on college campuses. On campuses it can be in departments, it can be in fraternities and sororities, and it can be in dorms. We have lots of different mechanisms to have students contribute on college campuses. We just do really well. Students show up and participate in a big way. But unfortunately, it’s really about nine months of the year that we’re able to have access to those students.

MN: Is there a way to do drives in a gym or fitness facility? Maybe people who care about health and fitness may be more eager to help. I don’t often see many drives geared towards working adults.

Hrouda: We have thousands of them across the country every day. Go to our website at redcrossblood.org or call us at 1-800-Red-Cross, or go to our app. We have a great app for blood donation and people can see exactly where we have locations. We have locations in businesses, we have locations in faith-based organizations, we have locations in community centers, sometimes we have bus drives parked outside of big-box stores and other locations, so we have a lot of locations for people to contribute. We try to make it as convenient as possible.

MN: Just how bad is this current blood shortage? 

Hrouda: It’s a very significant shortage. We have issued an emergency call for blood donors across the country. We’re asking that anybody who’s eligible to donate red cells or platelets to do so now. Over the last several weeks and months, we’ve actually collected about 40,000 less units than our hospitals have requested. We’ve used our inventory to meet that need, and now our inventory is severely depleted. We need to replenish them and we need to replenish them soon.

MN: Could you explain what the difference is in blood and platelet donations? 

Hrouda: Platelets are primarily used to stop bleeding. In most cases, they’re used in large parts for trauma patients, and in a big way for cancer treatment. Red cells are used to replace the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood. So that’s also used heavily in trauma situations, lots of surgical procedures, as well as cancer in some cases. Both products are needed desperately right now. Platelets only have a five-day shelf life, so we have to replenish those supplies regularly. And blood is only 42 days. People may think that blood and platelets last a long time — they don’t. They have a very short shelf life. And we need people to donate regularly to ensure that we have a readily available supply.

MN: So what’s the best way to help out right now? 

Hrouda: Come out and donate now. Donate yourself and get friends and family to come out and donate. The more people we have at our blood drives, the better off we are.

You heard the man. Head to redcrossblood.org, call 1-800-Red-Cross and download the blood app to figure out how to schedule an appointment and help to make a difference. Every ounce counts.

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