With families busy with fun-in-the-sun activities, the summer months usually bring a drop in critical blood donations. But with the impact of the pandemic, local American Red Cross officials find themselves in dire straits.
The blood supply collected by area drives feeds into local hospitals while also aiding cancer patients in their treatments. And, unfortunately, things aren’t looking good.
Cindi Bauer, account representative for the American Red Cross, says their daily reports are painting a dismal picture of local blood stores.
“Right now, we are really struggling. And that usually happens during the summer, when people start getting out more and doing all of the beautiful things that Georgia has to offer,” Bauer said.
“But, our daily forecast for all blood types is pretty much in the orange and red zones. We need to get as many donors as possible. We alway say that every blood donation can save up to three lives, considering the red blood cells, plasma and platelets.”
While there have been many blood drives in recent months, Bauer says that they’re still not getting the quantity that they need to meet the demand. But officials remain hopeful that changes in regulations, as well as continued testing for COVID-19 antibodies, will help.
“Right now, we’re just not getting enough donors through the door. We don’t know why that is and we don’t have answers for that,” she said.
“But there has been changes in eligibility, based on scientific data, that allows for more people to donate.”
That includes those who served in the military in Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s, during an outbreak of mad cow disease, which excluded them from future blood donations.
“After a 30-year study, the FDA has now found that those who had the mad cow antigens came from a very specific geographical region at very specific times. So they followed the science, and they’ve really opened it up to many more people,” she said.
“If people have questions about their eligibility to donate, I recommend calling the number (1-866-236-3276) because one question might lead to another.” The same is true for members of the LGBTQ community. Now, more of them are eligible to give. The same is true for those who have traveled to malaria-plagued regions of the globe.
“It used to be that you couldn’t donate blood for 12 months after traveling to a place with a high malaria risk but that has changed as well. Now, they’ve found that malaria, if it was contracted will present after 90 days,” she said.
While they’re opening the door to more donations, the Red Cross is also offering donors important information about their blood that could greatly impact their health. For starters, Bauer says, they are screening blood of African Americans for the sickle cell trait.
“Effective April 1, we began testing people who self-identify as African American or Black for the sickle cell trait. Many people don’t know whether or not they have it and 1/365 people does,” she said. “So this is a good place for them to start because it can impact their life choices from here on out.”
They are also continuing to test for COVID-19 antibodies.
“So if someone hasn’t been vaccinated and wants to know if they’ve been exposed, we’re still offering that,” she said.
In addition to traditional donations, the Red Cross is also seeking red cell, plasma and platelet donations — all of which are collected with those elements specifically in mind.
“For example, for platelets for cancer patients we get those from a specific donor and not from a pool of multiple donors. If there were a reaction ... then we wouldn’t know who the donation came from,” she said. “So we get all of these things from single sources at a fixed site.”
That’s also true for red blood cell extraction and they have a special machine that allows for that collection too. While donors have to meet certain height and weight requirements, the Power Red donation allows for a person to give twice as many red blood cells while getting their plasma and platelets back.
“It’s little smaller needle, which everyone likes and you have less frequent donations,” she said. “Also you are just as hydrated at the end as the beginning. This process reduces the amount of time between donation and transfusion.”
For more information about various donations, eligibility, as well as Rapid Pass, visit www.redcrossblood.org.
There’s also an updated list of local blood drives. A few on the horizon include:
• From 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, 3631 Community Road, Brunswick.
• From noon to 5 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church of Brunswick, 1400 Norwich St., Brunswick.
• From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday at the Honor Our Heroes Memorial Day Blood Drive at The Club, 2929 Demere Road, St. Simons Island.
• From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 9 at the Georgia DNR, 1 Conservation Way, Brunswick.