Red Cross issues urgent call for blood donors

Karena Majkowski, left, with the American Red Cross converses with blood donor Beth Gillespie-Kehoe.
Karena Majkowski, left, with the American Red Cross converses with blood donor Beth Gillespie-Kehoe.

If you are at least 17 years old, feeling well and weigh 100 pounds or more, you can help the American Red Cross end its winter blood shortage.
With quick turn around from donor to recipient, seasonal decline in donations around the holidays, and weather-related blood drive cancellations last month, the Red Cross — which provides about 40 percent of the country’s blood — made an “emergency” call for donors last week as hospitals used more blood than their blood banks received.
And some of their loyal donors and new donors heeded the call.
“It seemed … there was more of a need, it felt easy enough to do and it’s a good thing to do,” Elizabeth Gillespie-Kehoe of Glenville said as she donated blood Friday in Clifton Park. “And I have the day off from work.”
One-quarter of the Red Cross’ donations come from occasional donors, like Gillespie-Kehoe, another quarter come from first-time donors. And roughly half of the donations come from regular donors — who can give blood as often as every 56 days. But while 38 percent of the population is eligible to donate blood, just 10 percent of the eligible donors make blood donations.
“I know what’s going on here, that’s why I’m here,” said Theresa Higgins, another donor at the Southern Saratoga YMCA in Clifton Park on Friday. Higgins works in the blood lab of a local hospital and said she understands and appreciates the need medical professionals have for blood.
“I know what it takes for me to do my job,” Higgins said.
While the increased push for donations raises the level of urgency, the everyday work of blood donors — many of whom give multiple times a year — and the American Red Cross workers and volunteers continues as usual. The blood drive in Clifton Park was just one of the those that happen every day across the region and across the country. Blood donations are taken daily at the Everett Road Blood Donation Center in Colonie and other sites host donation drives on a regular basis.
The donation process
Blood drive scheduled. Appointment made. Health screened. Donation completed (and cookie eaten).
When the process is done, the blood is packed up and delivered to testing facilities. For Capital Region donations, the blood heads to a central location in Albany before being shipped each night to a Red Cross facility in Rochester. After the blood samples are tested and screened, they are distributed to hospital and other transfusion sites across the region.
“I couldn’t tell you the testing they do — it’s a lot,” said Karena Majkowski, the Red Cross supervisor of operations at Friday’s drive, as she explained the steps of taking Higgins’ blood donation.
Final stop for the donated blood is the veins of patients who need it.
The Capital Region’s hospitals, which rely on the American Red Cross for blood, communicate daily with one another and the Red Cross about blood supplies and needs. Regular blood has a shelf life of 42 days, though plasma and other blood products can last longer.
The need for blood and the supply do not rise and fall in synch with one another.
“Their inventory goes down and goes up depending on the season; it’s not unusual for us,” said John Van Patten, the blood bank supervisor for Ellis Medicine. “When they have a low inventory, which is currently, that can affect our ability to provide blood for our patients.”
Hospitals closely monitor their own blood supply. As a trauma center, Ellis must be prepared for major emergencies, which by their very nature are chaotic and uncertain. While the vast majority of blood recipients may need only one or two units — a unit being the contribution of an individual donor — patients in serious trauma or illness can require massive blood transfusions, requiring dozens of units. Blood is used in a wide variety of medical procedures and operations and for countless ailments.
Medical professionals also train in and practice effective blood use strategies, to optimize the supply.
“They make sure they only give blood products as necessary, they understand there are limits to availability,” said Bob Miglin, administrative laboratory director for Ellis Medicine.
A single donation can help a patient make it through a surgery, Van Patten said. Ellis Medicine’s hospitals — Nott Street, McClellan campus, and the Bellevue maternity center — combined use between 400 and 500 units of blood each month. That’s roughly 15 units a day.
“There is no replacement,” Van Patten said of the fundamental role of blood transfusions in medicine.
Van Patten said the hospital’s inventory is “adequate” but that could change overnight. The Red Cross is looking ahead to what it will need to supply hospitals next week, he said, and that’s why they made the emergency donation call. Van Patten added that he hadn’t heard of inventory problems at other local hospitals. If the pace of donations doesn’t turn around, however, hospitals could start to feel it.
That key role isn’t lost on donors, most of who say they donate blood because “they want to help others.”
“After one little stick then it’s nothing at all,” Gillespie-Kehoe said. “If you’ve ever had a blood test at your doctor’s it’s not more painful than that; it’s a nice way to give back to others, and you never know when you or a family member will need a donation.”
It takes 60 to 90 minutes to donate blood. After checking in with drive volunteers, the donors receive a short health screening. If all checks out, the donors get comfortable on a medical table, as a Red Cross worker preps for the blood draw.
Once the needle is in the donor’s vein, the actual donation takes between 5 and 15 minutes to complete.
As the donor’s blood slowly fills a pint-sized bag, it flows into a series of test vials as well. The blood units are packed into boxes of a dozen and covered with 18 pounds of ice. For about 10 days the blood units will be in transit and testing before landing in a hospital, where it can be stored for as long as about four weeks.
“We are in all the towns, there is always a blood drive in the local area,” said Majkowski, the 23-year Red Cross worker who led the Clifton Park blood drive. “It’s a very easy process; it’s not as bad what everyone thinks and you may never know when you or a family member of friend may need it.”

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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