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Surge in highway travel over Memorial Day weekend raises concern over low blood supply

Community asked to donate blood to honor heroes, help counter shortage as hospitals prepare for kickoff of summer travel season

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is asking the community to commemorate Memorial Day by helping to re-build the blood supply, with plans to keep its San Antonio and New Braunfels donor rooms open throughout the holiday weekend.

Continued growth in the demand for blood has resulted in critical shortages just as area hospitals are bracing for the kickoff of what’s predicted to be a busy summer travel season. While blood donations in our community have increased 2% over prior years, some hospitals in South Texas are needing 20% or more blood for their patients.

According to AAA, the number of people traveling this Memorial Day weekend is expected to increase by 60% from last year, with most expected to drive rather than fly.

“Although donations typically drop over holidays, we are hoping to see full donor rooms over the weekend and through next week,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of nonprofit BioBridge Global. “We know that in addition to scheduled surgeries and other procedures, hospitals need to have blood on hand for emergencies, from auto accidents to cases of childbirth complications.”

Communities across the country are reporting severe blood shortages going into the holiday weekend, with some centers reporting no blood available for local patients. Nationally, blood donations have declined and demand for blood is up more than 4% over the first quarter of 2020.

The spike in need can be attributed to rescheduled surgical procedures that were postponed because of COVID-19, along with increases because of the nation’s aging population and population growth. Meanwhile, many companies are waiting to resume regular blood drives as employees continue to work remotely.   

One San Antonio woman can attest to the need for blood to support emergency transfusions. In 1983, Laura was fortunate to survive a car accident that took the life of her mother. She suffered serious injuries and required multiple units of blood.

“There are no words to express my thanks to blood donors, other than to say you saved my life – and I’m sure you saved my arm as well,” she said. “Life would have gone on, but it would have been very different.”

Laura noted that when she was dealing with the loss of her mother, realizing that people made the effort to donate blood let her know that someone cared. Today, she is a regular blood donor, in honor of her mother and to help patients suffering from trauma and others in need of blood transfusions.

“The Memorial Day weekend is an opportunity to donate blood in honor of fallen military personnel, those who have lost their battle with coronavirus this last year or any family or friend who has passed from other causes,” said Mendoza, from South Texas Blood & Tissue. “It’s a gift that can honor their memory while also helping others currently fighting disease or injury.”

One complication with blood collections is the misconception that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine makes donors ineligible. There is no waiting period after a COVID-19 vaccine, as long as donors are feeling well.

About 60% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but only 10% of those who are eligible actually make at least one donation a year. If just 2% more people stepped forward, blood shortages would end. 

In South Texas, more than 6 in 10 existing blood donors give just once a year. If those one-time donors came back for a second donation, collections would increase by more than 110 a day alone.

Blood donations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s seven donor rooms, as well as at community blood drives, are averaging around 400 a day. The center needs 600 a day to meet patient needs and to re-build the blood supply.

As an extra thank-you for those who take the time to give blood Friday, May 28, through Monday, May 31, donors will score double rewards and can choose two $10 eGift cards from 100+ retailers.

Donors can make an appointment with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting Same-day appointments are available at the center’s seven donor rooms, as well as at community blood drives.

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