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.