Blood centers: U.S. facing critical shortage

COVID-19 impact on blood drives 

Blood donations are plummeting from coast to coast and putting a wide range of patients at risk, according to a joint statement by the organizations that provide virtually all the civilian blood needs in the United States. 

“Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the blood community has experienced unprecedented fluctuations in both supply and the need for blood,” the American Association of Blood BanksAmerica’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross said in statement.  

“A variety of events — including wildfires in the western states, recent hurricanes and other storms — have led to additional disruptions to the collection of blood, compounding the impact of canceled blood drives at schools, businesses and community organizations due to remote work and closures.” 

South Texas is experiencing the same critical shortages. The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center needs about 500 donations a day to keep up with requests from hospitals – but is averaging just 300 donations a day. Without a significant increase in blood donations, hospitals are at the point of making difficult choices on who they can treat with limited resources. 

Much of the decline can be attributed to the cancellation of more than 1,000 community blood drives, and thousands of lost blood donations, this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, 70% of donations in South Texas come from community drives. 

As a result, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center only is able to provide half the critically needed type O blood requested by hospitals. 

Donors can call 210-731-5590, or visit SouthTexasBlood.org to make an appointment at one of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s seven donor rooms or locate a blood drive.  

Blood collections typically increase during the fall from high school and college drives, but fewer than half the usual school drives are scheduled through the end of the year. 

In normal times, when donations decline, blood centers help each other with shortfalls. But centers today have no donations to share. 

Blood donations are needed for a range of treatments, from cancer to trauma to childbirth, even during the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 and the upcoming flu season could further compound challenges, the national statement said. 

“Blood donors are needed now to help maintain the adequacy of the blood supply and to ensure that blood is available,” the statement said. “Blood donors are needed now 

and will continue to be needed to ensure patients continue to have access to blood throughout the remainder of 2020.” 

Community blood banks, including the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, have put numerous protocols in place to keep donors safe, from mandatory masks to social distancing to appointment-only donations. All donations are tested for COVID-19 antibodies. 

To make an appointment at a donor room or blood drive, donors can call 210-731-5590 or visit SouthTexasBlood.org  

Ongoing blood shortage takes toll on most at-risk patients

Blood shortage may delay college student’s treatments as she waits for transplant

Since the age of 6, Hagan Hill has needed blood donations to manage a rare liver disease. Across the nation, the pandemic has made it more difficult for patients like her to get the blood they desperately need.

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center lost 1,000 blood drives, the equivalent of 7,600 blood donations, this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fall, the community blood center continues to struggle to get the 500 donations it needs every day to meet the needs of patients in hospitals across the region.

That includes patients like 20-year-old Hagan, whose family hopes there will be enough blood when she is finally scheduled for a second liver transplant. Because the procedure involves transplanting a partial liver from a living donor, it was considered elective surgery and was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Jeanie Hill, Hagan’s mother, said that when the lifesaving procedure can finally be scheduled, it will not take place unless adequate amounts of blood are available.

“Think of it – it could be your loved one who may need a lifesaving liver, heart or kidney transplant – and you would want them to live,” she said. “So we are pleading with the community to please step forward, because you may need it yourself someday.”

Hagan has required blood transfusions since her diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis at the age of 6. She received a liver transplant at 14, after an episode of massive gastrointestinal bleeding, but her condition now requires another transplant.

She also suffers from severe anemia. The shortage of blood over the summer forced her to take an iron treatment instead of a blood transfusion, her mother said.

“We would have preferred Hagan to have received a blood transfusion vs. iron,” Jeanie said. “Blood obviously would work faster to raise her iron level, therefore she would receive the benefits quickly.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected blood donations not only in South Texas but across the nation, said Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio-based BioBridge Global.

“For most blood centers, blood drives produce about 70% of the donations in a typical year, and most of those drives were cancelled over the summer because of the pandemic,” she said. “Usually when there are shortages, community blood centers work together to fill the need, but in this case, the shortage is nation-wide and no one has blood to send.” 

Blood collections typically increase during the fall, because school-related drives normally provide up to a quarter of all donations. But because of the pandemic, universities and high schools are hosting very few blood drives, so thousands of additional blood donations are being lost, creating uncertainty for patients needing blood.

The center is asking the community to step up and donate blood during a time of critical need. It is also asking businesses and organizations to work with it to find new ways to host blood drives and encourage donation this fall, even if employees and students are still at home.

“For every patient who needs blood, it’s a 9-1-1 situation,” Waltman said. “We have had a lot of community support already, but the community needs more drives for the people who need blood in South Texas.”

In South Texas, donors wanting to give blood and organizations to sponsor a drive can contact the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center at 210-731-5590 or visit SouthTexasBlood.org/Give-Now. Donors also can give at University Hospital by calling 210-358-2812 or visiting DonateBloodToday.com. To sign up as an organ donor, visit DonateLifeTexas.org.

All donations are by appointment only to help maintain proper social distancing.