Critical condition: Area blood supply is drastically low

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Don Vogel, a regular blood donor, looked forward as the tube was secured to his arm on during a blood drive Monday at St. Andrew Lutheran Church. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

The average person can donate one pint of blood every eight weeks. The Red Cross reports nothing near that is being collected and the blood supply in the area is critically low.

Smaller hospitals have had to share blood with busier ones and physicians have had to re-evaluate the immediacy of operations.

"We're always low in the summer because our schools are out," said Kelly Ressel, donor recruitment account manager with the American Red Cross in Cape Girardeau. She announced to the media in early September that the blood supply was the lowest she had seen in her tenure with the Red Cross.

School starts in the fall and the influx of students with blood to give restores the supply, but this year has been a different story, she said. The Red Cross averages about 10 blood drives in the Southeast Missouri area per week, but the efforts have not improved conditions.

"We can't quite put our finger on why the donors aren't coming in," Ressel said. "They're just not."

The Red Cross collects and distributes blood to more than 20 area hospitals. Ressel said a five-day supply is ideal, but they are used to running on a two-day supply. Right now, the Red Cross is operating with less than a day's supply of blood. The O negative blood type is especially needed because it is universally compatible with other blood types.

"If there's a day's supply of blood that means the hospitals' needs are being met for that day and that day only," she said.

Hospitals have been coping with critically low blood supplies for the last five weeks.

"The summer months are always really bad because the usage of blood goes up," said Julie Wengert, supervisor at the Southeast Missouri Hospital Blood Bank. "People are out traveling more. You have more accidents."

Accidents increase in the summer because of travel, but donations decrease because people who might normally donate are out of town.

"We just do the best we can and try to make the best use basically of our blood supply," Wengert said.

The decision to postpone a procedure depends on the patient's history and what their surgery is. Some surgeries, like orthopedic procedures, require little or no blood during the operation.

"That's the physician's call basically," she said. The blood bank tells the doctors of the blood supply and lets them make the call.

Craig Goodson, product distribution supervisor with the Red Cross, manages the blood supply and disperses to hospitals in the area. He said hospitals will usually transfer blood if another needs it.

"Once we send a hospital their blood, I can't tell them, 'Hey, you need to transfer this,'" he said.

The decision to share blood is up to the hospital, but Goodson said they are typically accommodating and willing to transfer if he can give them a tentative date of replenishment.

"Usually that's not a problem except right now when it's real real low," he said. "Right now I can't say I can replace it."

Saint Francis Medical Center, Southeast Missouri Hospital, Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center and the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale in Illinois were among the bigger facilities that require more blood, he said.

"A couple of weeks ago they were definitely putting off surgeries that were not critical," Goodson said. "Anything in a life or death situation could be taken care of."

Goodson said he has not heard from the blood banks recently.

A spokeswoman for Saint Francis Medical Center said they "are aware of the shortage, but we have not canceled any surgeries."

"We do want to encourage everyone to give because we do need the blood," she said.

Wengert said Southeast carries 150 units of blood "on a good day," but the blood bank said it has not had those numbers lately.

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