In the wake of Hurricane Irene, the American Red Cross is asking for an increase in blood donations. In a press release dated August 29, the organization stated that because of the damage done along the East Coast, more than 60 blood drives have been cancelled, a loss of approximately 2,100 donations.
“We expect these numbers to go up due to storm damage and power outages in many locations,” said JaLae Thompson, donor recruitment manager for Utah.
According to the release, the “Red Cross is urging immediate blood and platelet donations in areas unaffected by this storm. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), meet height and weight requirements (110 pounds or more, depending on their height), and who are generally in good health may be eligible to donate blood.”
Colleges offer a large number of ideal candidates in one place to give blood. Because college students are generally younger and healthier than people outside of campus, potential donors are less likely to be turned away for medical reasons, according to John Petersen, public relations representative for the Lewis and Clark Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross.
Salt Lake Community College has increased its number of donations to 75 pints during the last couple of collection drives at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
“Each time, we’ve been able to grow the goal [at SLCC],” said Sheri Van Bibber, donor recruitment representative. She wants to get SLCC to the level to be able to compete in the Blood Battle competition held between local universities.
Only 38% of the population is eligible to give blood and only about eight percent actually donate.
“There is such a potential to grow that percentage,” says Van Bibber.
When college students give, they typically start a lifelong habit of giving. Students who donate are able to give blood every 56 days and those recurring donors are important for the Red Cross to be able to provide local hospitals with the 440 units of blood they need every day. The Red Cross provides 33 hospitals in the state of Utah with blood. Van Bibber said that giving blood “is the biggest pay it forward service project when you can help up to three people.”
In addition to the standard way of donating blood, there are two other methods that can be used, apheresis and double red cell donation. Apheresis removes the blood from the donor and separates it into red blood cells and platelets. The red blood cells are put back into the donor and the platelets are used in cancer treatments. Apheresis takes a little longer than other types of blood donations, so donation seats are outfitted with DVD players and monitors for donors to watch while they are giving blood.
The double red cells process allows the Red Cross to collect two pints of red blood cells. The blood is removed from the donor and separated into red blood cells and platelets. The platelets are returned to the donor and the red blood cells are kept by the Red Cross. People who would like to donate using this process need to be larger and are able to donate only once every 120 days.
“We always need blood of all types, but there is a special need for O negative right now,” said Petersen. O negative blood is known as the universal donor. Hospitals use it when they don’t have the time to find a patient’s blood type.
Nationwide inventory in May and June of 2011 were at their lowest in 12 years. Utah usually collects enough to meet its own demand and share with the rest of the country, but “summer is always a struggle,” said Petersen.
Dr. Charles Drew pioneered the ability to store blood in the 1930s. The Red Cross started collecting blood in Utah in 1997 when the local hospitals decided to end their blood collection programs.
Those wishing to donate blood may do so by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or by using the web site www.redcrossblood.org. There are also a couple of blood drives scheduled for SLCC, one in October and one in November.