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Cold weather, flu has reduced blood supply

PARK HILLS — With only 5 percent of the eligible population rolling up their sleeves to give blood, donations in recent years have rarely kept up with demand, sometimes causing local hospitals to scramble for additional supplies.

During a press conference last Thursday, the Missouri-Illinois Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross issued an appeal for blood, citing inclement weather and a crippling bout of flu as the main obstacles for donors. Four blood drives at high schools were canceled.

“We’re in constant need of blood type O negative, the universal blood type,” said David Worley, blood bank supervisor at Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington. “Because anyone can use those units of blood, they’re in high demand.”

Whereas surgeries involving transfusions might require only one to two units of blood, some surgeries involving heavier loss of blood might require as many as 45 transfusions for one individual. Dialysis and some cancer treatments might require the patient to undergo daily transfusions, said Medical Technologist Andrea Grissom of Parkland Health Center, also in Farmington.

“The population has increased here, and surgeries have become more complicated, so that has contributed to the increase in the need for blood,” she said. “Generally, the required number of transfusions for an operation are one or two, but I know of one operation involving gastrointestinal bleeding which required about 42 or 43 units of blood products over two days time.”

If supplies run low, hospitals in the area often share with one another, Grissom said. She added that physicians are also usually aware of supplies, and will often gauge how many units are needed, if at all, before they decide to transfuse the patient. “If there’s a really low supply of blood on hand, the doctors may think about the transfusion, give it to the neediest patients,” she said.

Worley agreed, saying it’s a rare occasion, but sometimes blood must be rushed south from St. Louis. He said he’s heard that the American Red Cross is operating on a dangerously low supply of blood for the nation.

According to the Red Cross, the supply of O-negative — the universal blood type used most often in emergency situations — is critically low, standing at less than a one-day supply. O-positive and B-negative stand under a two-day supply.

Local drives have done much to replenish the supply of blood available locally and nationwide. Churches, businesses schools and civic organizations have contributed thousands of usable pints for the American Red Cross to process.

Mineral Area College Student Nurses Association and Farmington radio KREI-KTJJ are organizing their fifth mega-blood drive to offset the crucial need for donors. The drive will be in MAC’s Robert E. Sechrest Sr. Field House, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., March 28. All donors will receive a complimentary T-shirt.

MAC Nursing Instructor Esther Blum said that, to help reduce waiting time to give blood, donors are encouraged to schedule appointments by calling toll-free, (800) 583-8280, or e-mailing The number will be in operation Feb. 28-March 26.

Over the past five years, the student nurses and KREI-KTJJ have helped the American Red Cross collect 1,175 usable units of blood. This year, their goal is to collect 450 units.

“Along with the opportunity to make a significant difference in the life of another person, it’s a learning opportunity for the students and donors to witness one of the many services the Red Cross provides to people across the world,” Blum said.

“We think it’s important for our nursing students to see, firsthand, how important blood donations are to their chosen fields. While they aren’t quite allowed yet to draw the blood and be involved in the actual collection or screening, the students always do such a great job of cheering donors on, making it a fun atmosphere and encouraging those who might feel a little squeamish that they’re doing a very important and brave thing.”

“It seems like those who most often give blood are those who have experienced situations where lots of blood transfusions are needed,” Worley said. “I’m glad they realize the impact of their giving, but I wish more people didn’t wait until a major accident or surgery is required before they realize the importance of giving blood.”

Grissom agreed. “It’s a small sacrifice that could save someone’s life, possibly even in your family,” she said. “I think if people were faced with an immediate family member’s life or death, they wouldn’t think twice about donating blood. When it’s all said and done, the pain level is minimal, but the effect and impact it has on life is tremendous and far reaching.”

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