Additional 200 blood donors a day sought to meet growing needs of South Texas patients

Blood donations at South Texas Blood & Tissue Center fail to keep up with increased demand from area hospitals

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center needs an additional 200 blood donations a day to keep up with the region’s growing needs for transfusions.

Orders from hospitals throughout the 48 counties served by the center are up an average of 20% from a year ago, and donations are not keeping pace.

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, which is a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global, needs 600 a day to meet patient needs and to re-build the blood supply, which is critically low.

The shortage of blood has a human face to it. Leukemia patients like 2-year-old Amy require regular transfusions, which help keep up her strength as she undergoes chemotherapy.

“I think there’s an idea that there’s some big endless supply of blood, that hospitals don’t run out,” said Amy’s dad, Ryan. “That’s simply not the case. We’ve seen a slight bit of that and it’s enough to frighten us.

“What if it took eight hours? Eight days? What would that look like? It’s frightening, especially when every patient’s situation is so unique and different, and a lot of it is life-threatening.”

Cancer patients like Amy receive the largest percentage of transfusions in this country every year.

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

Part of the shortfall in blood collections is the result of a decline in the number of community blood drives, which began last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations that historically had sponsored large drives either canceled drives out of a concern for safety, or because didn’t have enough workers on-site to make a drive feasible.

More than 1,000 fewer blood drives were held in 2020 alone.

The center also has seen a decline in the number of appointments at its donor rooms in San Antonio, New Braunfels and Victoria.

The shortage is not just limited to South Texas. Blood centers across the country are appealing to donors to give, even as social distancing requirements remain in place. 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.

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.

In addition, a change to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for blood donors last year made thousands of South Texans eligible to give blood for the first time in decades. Members of the military, their dependents and civilian military employees who lived in Europe for more than six months had been prevented from donating by the FDA, until a change effective July 1.

The center has digitized some of the some of the registration process in an effort to shorten the on-site time involved in making a lifesaving donation.

“Texans can help out fellow Texans by giving blood and by hosting blood drives,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. “It’s what we’ve always done.”

South Texas Blood & Tissue Center donor rooms to remain open through holiday weekend to meet urgent need for blood

With the demand for blood soaring, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is fighting an expected seasonal drop in donations over Passover and Easter Week by keeping donor rooms open and asking the community to give the gift of life this holiday weekend.

The blood center will remain open through the Passover and the Easter holiday weekend including Sunday at all six San Antonio/New Braunfels donor rooms.

“An increase in surgeries and transplants seems to be driving a higher demand,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global. “We are aware of at least eight liver transplant procedures just this week. Several of those patients needed more than 50 units of blood each.

“Although the community has responded to our call for donations, we’re concerned that blood won’t be available to meet the increased level of demand, especially if there is a drop in collections this weekend,” Mendoza added. “Surgery, and especially transplants, can’t go forward without the hospital having sufficient blood on hand.”

There also is a significant need for donations for those undergoing cancer treatments. Cancer patients receive the largest percentage of blood transfusions year in and year out, and those transfusions are at risk because of the ongoing shortage.

Hospitals also need to have blood on hand for emergency trauma cases, from auto accidents to cases of childbirth complications.

A special thank-you for giving the gift of life

As an extra thank-you for those who take the time to give blood, donors will receive double rewards this month 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 SouthTexasBlood.org. Same-day appointments are available at the center’s seven donor rooms in San Antonio, New Braunfels and Victoria, as well as at community blood drives.

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has added appointment slots as it works to build the blood supply. Anyone who already has an appointment is asked to keep it or contact the center to reschedule and open space for another donor.

San Antonio’s 120-gallon-plus blood donors encourage others to give

All-star trio has given 372 gallons through the years at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center – and they’re still donating 

Every blood donor has a story about why they started giving, and the three blood donation superstars who recently gathered at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center to encourage others to donate are no exception. 

Ron White, Marcos Perez and Gerald Perkins were honored as blood donation all-stars at a thank-you event at the center’s Donor Pavilion. 

White, who started giving at the age of 17, has donated 131 gallons. Perkins, who first gave blood in 1950, is at 121 gallons just at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. Perez was featured in news reports around the world recently after reaching 120 gallons. All three have donated a combination of whole blood and platelets. 

“It’s not every day you get to meet true heroes, but these three men are true heroes,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President for Blood Operations at the center, which is a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global. 

All three all-star donors encouraged the community to follow their lead, especially as the blood supply is battered by canceled blood drives during the COVID-19 pandemic and growing needs from the 100 hospitals and clinics the center serves in Texas. Platelet donors can give every two weeks, up to 24 times a year, and whole blood donors can give every 56 days. 

“If people in this town can back the Spurs, they can back the blood bank, too,” said Perez. “They need to pay it forward – one donation saved my life, and that means thousands of people are alive today.” 

Perez, who was born prematurely, received a transfusion as a baby. When he became eligible, he started giving platelets on a regular basis at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. He visits every two weeks, and even after his recent retirement from the U.S. Postal Service, he plans to keep donating. 

White first gave blood as a teenager, but he began regularly donating platelets after meeting a girl at his church who needed blood as she struggled with leukemia. He hadn’t seen her in nearly 15 years – until the all-star donation event, where she came to thank him in person. 

“It’s because of donors like you that I’m here today,” said Arden Cantwell, who now is in college. 

White, who like Perez is retired, also makes regular platelet donations. He doesn’t mind forcefully encouraging people to donate as well. 

“People ask me why I donate all the time,” he said. “I say, ‘Why in the hell don’t you donate, too?’” 

Perkins, who at 90 is one of the center’s oldest regular donors, started giving when a blood drive came to the International Harvester factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1950, when he was 20 years old. 

“They told me you didn’t have to do any heavy lifting the rest of the day if you gave blood,” Perkins said with a chuckle. “Sounded good to me.” 

Perkins, who was drafted soon after his first donation and then made the U.S. Army a 30-year career, worked hard to find places to give blood while in the service. 

“When I was stationed in Hawaii, they didn’t collect blood at the base,” he said. “I had to take a bus to the blood center in Honolulu to donate.” 

Perkins also found ways to give while stationed at Heidelberg, Germany, Washington, D.C., and other places he said he just can’t remember anymore. None of those donations count toward his total of 121 gallons at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. 

His final assignment was at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he started donating at the base’s blood center. He began giving at the local blood center – which opened in 1974 – when he retired from the military in the 1980s. 

“It’s a wonderful way to be able to help people,” he said. 

At the end of the thank-you event, which featured a stack of five-gallon buckets representing the 372 gallons the men have given at the center, all three walked to the nearby donor room and added to their totals. 

“It’s the least we can do,” White said. 

Olsen family bloodmobile joins South Texas Blood & Tissue Center fleet

Multiple generations of Barbara Olsen’s family witnessed a rolling tribute to her on March 12 with the dedication of the Homer Olsen Family bloodmobile for the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. 

Family members saw the new blood collections vehicle inside and out – including a Homer Olsen Family logo that features a yellow rose and an outline of the state of Texas. 

“It will be an amazing sight to me when I’m out on the road and see that yellow rose drive by,” said Cindy Schneider, a member of The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation board of directors and Homer and Barbara Olsen’s daughter. 

Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, said the bloodmobile would be a lasting tribute to Barbara Olsen, who passed away after a long battle with leukemia – one that required multiple blood and platelets transfusions. 

“Thousands and thousands of people will set foot in that bus and save lives,” Waltman said. “From the bottom of our hearts, and for all those people, we say ‘thank you’ to Mr. Olsen.” 

Cathy Bailey, Homer Olsen’s daughter, thanked the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and The Foundation. 

“We are so grateful to be able to give back to these wonderful organizations and our community,” she said. “They are saving lives every day, and for that we have our dad to thank.” 

Homer Olsen paid the entire price for the bloodmobile, following a tour of BioBridge Global in 2019. 

The vehicle goes into service across South Texas this spring, with the yellow rose logo on three sides as well as donor entrance and exit doors. Yellow was Barbara Olsen’s favorite color, and a bloodmobile is a fitting tribute to her mother’s legacy, Schneider said. 

“I especially remember a backyard party was had for mom with all of her best friends present,” she said. “Mom was the shining star of the party, just having a blood transfusion. She passed away about three weeks later. 

“She battled this disease with grace and dignity and was an inspiration to her family.” 

Ad on San Antonio Express-News about the new bus

Soaring demand for blood, falling collections put South Texas patients at risk

Appointments to donate blood drop during spring break

Patients across South Texas are needing blood transfusions at record levels, while donations have dropped in the last week because of spring break.

The result: Serious risk for a healthcare crisis.

“Between multiple heart surgeries, a liver transplant, a pediatric heart transplant and an increase in trauma cases, we’re looking at less than a day’s supply for some blood types,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, which is a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global.

“Hospitals are running full surgery schedules, and those additional demands are on top of the regular need for transfusions for cancer patients, new mothers and their babies.”

Without more donations, the center will have to work with hospitals and decide on which transfusions to delay because of the blood shortage.

Appointments open this weekend

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has dozens of appointments available this weekend at its Donor Pavilion donor room at 6211 Interstate 10 West at First Park Ten Boulevard, as well as a handful of community blood drives. Donors can call 210-731-5590 or visit SouthTexasBlood.org to make an appointment. Same-day donations are welcome.

This week, the center has:

  • Sent out almost 500 units of blood a day – almost 45% more than normal
  • Seen appointments to donate blood drop by 50 to 100 a day because of the disruption of schedules from spring break
  • Struggled to fill almost 200 open appointments a day

COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t affect blood donation

Donors also may be confused about their eligibility to give blood if they have received a COVID-19 vaccination, said Dr. Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul, Associate Medical Director at the blood center.

“The truth: You’re eligible to donate blood right away after receiving any of the three vaccines currently available – Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson,” she said.

Critical need for type O blood

The need is particularly critical for type O blood, which in an emergency can be transfused to most patients. The center has less than one day’s supply of both O-positive and O-negative blood types.

All presenting donors can take home as thank-you gifts a $10 Amazon gift card and points in the South Texas Blood & Tissue Donor Store. All donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies as well, with results posted to the donor’s online profile.

Journal examines successful launch, expansion of whole-blood transfusion program in South Texas

The first-of-its-kind civilian program to provide low-titer O-positive whole blood for emergency use, of which the Brothers in Arms program from the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is a key component, has been highlighted in the latest edition of the journal Military Medicine

Chief Operating Officer of South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Elizabeth Waltman is one of the co-authors of the article, “Operationalizing the Deployment of Low-Titer O-Positive Whole Blood Within a Regional Trauma System.” 

An outgrowth of military research 

The program is administered by the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which coordinates trauma care throughout a 22-county region, and managed and guided by the San Antonio Whole Blood Consortium. It was developed in conjunction with the U.S. military, which has been researching the use of whole blood in battlefield situations since Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. 

The first civilian low-titer O whole blood program in the country started with deployment of units of specially collected and screened blood to helicopter EMS units. In an update from the time the article was published, 94 hospital and pre-hospital users (eight hospitals and 86 ground and air EMS units) now are carrying the special units. 

Overcoming concerns with novel solutions 

The report noted that a major concern at the launch of the program was the potential for loss of units to expiration. But thanks to a novel system that rotates the blood from air medical providers, Level IV trauma centers and ground EMS providers to the Level I center after 14 days, the loss rate has stayed low, at just 1.16% 

Maintaining the blood at a proper temperature also was a major issue, but just one unit has been discarded, when it was accidentally frozen. 

Another concern was transfusion-related complications, but none have been reported among patients who have received low-titer O whole blood either before arriving at the emergency room or in the emergency room. Through 2020, 754 patients had received the special transfusions. 

Reliable, loyal donors 

The Brothers in Arms program from the community blood center has a reliable and loyal base of 3,097 active donors (through 2020, updated from the article) to keep the program supplied, along with recruiting and retaining donors through social media and special events. Brothers in Arms donors show up to their appointments 80% of the time, compared to a 60% show rate for all blood donors. 

The current eligible donor pool totals 6,519, and there were 3,876 Brothers in Arms units collected in 2020. 

The conclusion of the report noted: 

“This work demonstrates a novel civilian model for the development of a trauma system LTOWB program. Implementation and sustainment of the program, augmenting remote damage control resuscitation strategies, requires the integration and collaboration of a multidisciplinary stakeholder team to optimize efficiency, performance, and safety of the program. 

“The SAWBC has shared all processes and outcome information with numerous interested organizations to facilitate the development of other LTOWB programs in their catchment area to decrease mortality and morbidity associated with hemorrhage.”

Local patients at risk due to severe blood shortages

National blood shortages can have dramatic impact on South Texas patients

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center distributed more than 1,081 units of blood to local hospitals.

Only 480 blood donations were made on the same two days in total. The demand for blood donors remains extremely urgent, with 500 donations a day needed to meet patient needs. 

It’s a disturbing trend that shows no signs of changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed a secondary national health emergency – a dramatic blood shortage for patients from coast to coast.

“The need for blood increased 35% in January, far more than what we normally see around this time of year. This is straining our local blood supply and putting our community at risk.”

Adrienne Mendoza, vice president of Blood Operations at South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global

In January, several critically injured patients needed more than 40 units of blood, which can be a hospital’s entire supply. In addition, area hospitals recorded an increased need for blood for liver transplants and open-heart surgeries.

That need is on top of requirements for new mothers and newborns, as well as cancer patients.

“We have had too many badly injured patients over the past two weeks that we have consumed more blood products than likely any two-week period in time for injured patients at University Hospital.”

Dr. Donald Jenkins, trauma care surgeon at University Health System. 

Blood shortages have been a continuing issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, since thousands of blood drives have been canceled from coast to coast, including hundreds in South Texas. Winter storms in the Northeast are further stressing the supply, since centers in hard-hit areas are unable to collect blood.  

“Usually when there are shortages, community blood centers work together to fill the need, but in this case, the shortage is nationwide and no one has any unallocated blood to send,” Mendoza said.  

Due to the shortage, the Center is extending hours at the donor rooms at Shavano Park and the Donor Pavilion on IH 10, from Thursday to Saturday. Donors can make an appointment by visiting SouthTexasBlood.org or calling 210-731-5590. 

Shavano Donor Room:
Thursday, Feb. 4 – Saturday, Feb. 6: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Donor Pavilion Donor Room:
Thursday, Feb. 4: 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 5: 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 6: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

All South Texas Blood & Tissue Center donors in February will receive a $10 Amazon gift card, voucher for a 20-ounce smoothie of their choice from Smoothie King on Sundays, as well as points to redeem additional gift cards or merchandise.

Blood donors also can give at the University Hospital Blood Donor Room, 4502 Medical Drive. To schedule an appointment with University Hospital, call 210-358-2812.