Red Cross blood shortage sparks need for donations


Blood Donation (at a “bloodmobile”)/Vegasjon/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Amid an ongoing blood crisis, the Red Cross urges those who are eligible to donate. “It’s vital that donors come forward in the days and weeks ahead to help prevent further delays in vital medical care,” said Cari Dighton, the Regional Communications Director for the American Red Cross in the Northern California Coastal Region.

By Robin Linares, Carlmont High School

The Red Cross declared a national blood crisis after having the worst blood shortage in over a decade.

Blood donations are used for blood transfusions, which are needed in many different circumstances. In addition to emergency room traumas and use during scheduled surgeries, blood is used for people with chronic medical conditions that affect blood production, like anemia and certain cancers. These transfusions help keep the patient alive and improve their quality of life. 

In a typical operating room setting, there are practices to prevent blood wastage. Nathalie Monsler, a nurse at Dignity Health and Sequoia Hospital, explains one standard method used so that no blood is wasted.

“Instead of cross-matching, [which is] having blood ready and available to a patient prior to surgery, we’ll often type and screen where we find out the patient’s blood type,” Monsler said. “If during their hospitalization they need blood, they can be quickly cross-matched and transfused.”  

Due to ongoing issues with the pandemic, and thus, fewer blood drives, less people are donating, leaving a shortage of available blood to give out to patients. This issue has gotten worse with new variants like omicron.  

Blood Shortage Statistics by Robin Linares

Despite this, the demand for blood has increased since postponed surgeries from earlier in the pandemic are being rescheduled. Additionally, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, people who delayed treatment early in the pandemic are now showing more aggressive disease, which increases the need for blood. As a result of these factors, doctors need to decide who to give blood to first.

“Doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available,” said Cari Dighton, the Regional Communications Director for the American Red Cross in Northern California Coastal Region. 

Dighton explained that while the U.S. has faced blood shortages in the past, like the one in September of last year, there wasn’t an immediate response to donate blood. The late response was mainly due to new variants, holiday conditions, and supply chain issues. Because of this, the blood supply hadn’t been replenished from the last shortage, making it even harder to get blood to patients.

“What has been even more challenging at this time is that the blood supply levels have remained at historically low levels for nearly four months now,” Dighton said. “While both hospitals and blood centers have developed strategies to manage through shorter periods of limited blood supplies, a prolonged and sustained blood shortage has had a much deeper impact on patient care.”

In the face of these challenges, the Red Cross encourages people to donate. People tend to donate for various reasons, whether to help out with the shortage or for other personal reasons. One donor, Aiden St. Lawrence, a junior at Design Tech High School, explained why he chose to donate.

“I donated blood because a close family member has had a lot of surgeries that required blood, so this is my way of giving back,” St. Lawrence said. “I personally feel like I’ve always got a debt when someone does something for me out of the goodness of their heart, so if I’ve donated blood already, I can accept blood if I ever need it without that sort of worry that it should have gone to someone else.”

What has been even more challenging at this time is that the blood supply levels have remained at historically low levels for nearly four months now.”

— Cari Dighton

Following the announcement of the blood crisis, many have been looking for ways to donate. Still, most of the earliest blood drives are running out of available appointments due to scheduling issues and the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. Nonetheless, Dighton stresses the need for donors.

However, depending on eligibility requirements, some may not be able to donate blood due to their age or pre-existing health conditions. Sarah Brown, a Carlmont sophomore, is not eligible to donate since the minimum age requirement is 16. Despite this, she knows the importance of contributing and would consider donating once she is eligible.

“I think it’s important to donate blood because it can save someone’s life if they really need a blood transfusion,” Brown said. “I would definitely consider donating blood to help other people, especially if there was a shortage.”

Whether one is eligible to donate blood or not, there are still other ways to get involved with this cause, either through hosting a blood drive or volunteering with the Red Cross. Dighton gave her gratitude to those willing to donate to help during these turbulent times with whatever involvement. 

“Blood can only be made available through the kindness of volunteer donors, so we thank those eligible that choose to give the gift of life,” Dighton said.

This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on January 27, 2022.