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Blood supply reaching desperately low levels

Lowest it has been in at least a decade
Posted at 9:52 AM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 17:54:09-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Hospitals are dealing with desperately low blood supply. The American Red Cross said it has been at least a decade since the supply was this low at this time of year.

They are asking for people to donate this holiday season so that medical care never has to be compromised.

“It’s zero question. We're now in the worst point that we've been actually in the last 20 years,” said Dr. Aaron Tobian, Director of the Transfusion Medicine Division at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Johns Hopkins is one of about 50 local hospitals that depend on the Red Cross.

Dr. Tobian said over the last few months, they’ve been struggling with critical shortages of both red blood cells and O platelet units.

“At one point, we had to question whether we could bring in a patient that had a massive transfusion trauma situation from a car accident. We're questioning whether we can support our sickle cell patients,” said Dr. Tobian. “Many of our platelet units that support our oncology patients, recently, we've been having to split in half to make sure we have enough units to support these critically ill patients.”

Coming off 2020, supply was already low because donations and drives decreased, but this year everything has compounded to make the situation dire.

Donations in Maryland are down 8% compared with this time last year.

The National Capital and Greater Chesapeake region experienced over a 40% decrease in new blood donors this year. That’s more than the national average at 34%.

“In September 2021 alone, nearly 500 fewer Marylanders came out to donate, compared with September of last year,” said Ashley Henyan, the communications director for the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake region of the American Red Cross. “People are still a little bit reluctant I think to come out to a blood drive and donate and that’s causing a decrease in the supply but I want everyone to know that it’s safe to come to a blood drive and that after your vaccine, it’s also safe to donate blood.”

Severe weather nationwide also exacerbated the problem, diverting supply to communties battered by disasters.

Now, there’s an increase in demand.

“Recently we’ve actually noticed the number of traumas have increased and the number of individuals who have required blood transfusion have also increased,” said Dr. Tobian.

“At the onset of the pandemic, a lot of those nonemergent procedures were put on hold: orthopedic surgeries, cosmetic procedures; and then as people started to get their vaccines and get more comfortable and hospitals had a bit more space, those were put back on the books,” said Henyan.

They are anticipating a grim few months ahead. The holidays are already a much slower time for blood collections, so they are asking people to take the time and give the gift of life to a burn or accident victim, a heart surgery or cancer patient.

“It's the number one life saving procedure that's performed in the hospital,” said Dr. Tobian. “It’s incredibly important for you to help your neighbor and colleague that may end up in the hospital.”

Dr. Tobian said the biggest needs are red blood cells, which are only available for 42 days after collection, and also platelets, which all can only be stored for five days after collection.

If you donate by December 16th, you get a $10 dollar Amazon gift card and are entered for the chance to win a private screening of the new film The Matrix Resurrections.

Click here to find a drive.