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Maryland family experiencing effects of national blood shortage

Posted at 5:18 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 09:12:12-04

BALTIMORE — "I feel like I won the parent lottery and it’s just my turn to give back," said Betsy Weingarten.

After years as a stay at home mom for her two kids, it’s now Weingarten’s mom’s turn to be taken care of. In her 90s, she lives in Ellicott City and is a two-time cancer survivor.

"The great news is she doesn’t have cancer anymore but the bad news is two courses of radiation in a relatively short period of time has left her with some damage that’s resulted in bleeding," said Weingarten.

So last summer, she started needing transfusions.

"They allow her to live, most importantly, but also they help with her quality of life," said Weingarten.

She said when her mom needed them, they were readily available. But that started to change at the beginning of this year.

"Now her blood levels have to get extremely low so she has to be in a very weakened state before we can get the blood that she needs," said Weingarten.

Weingarten learned it was because of a national blood shortage because of COVID-19.

"It’s really scary," said Weingarten. "When your blood levels get too low, it can be a strain on your heart."

The American Red Cross said approximately 1,000 blood drives have been canceled each month nationwide. If you equate that to the potential number of lives saved, that’s 90,000 people.

"Many of our partners feel compelled not to host in-person drives because they’re not requiring people to come to the office to work or schools weren’t in session," said Misty Bruce, the executive director of the American Red Cross of Central Maryland.

Bruce said another factor is a hesitancy to go out in public.

"When they [people] are setting a criteria of things on their list, I think it’s natural to say, 'Oh well maybe I shouldn’t go to the blood drive', not realizing that without that blood, there could be a patient that doesn’t get the support that they need," said Bruce.

The blood could go to people like Weingarten's mom or to one of the large hospital systems in our area.

"We’re tight. I’d say the supply is tight and I'm hoping to won’t get tighter," said Dr. Paul Ness.

Ness is the senior director of transfusion medicine for Johns Hopkins. He said their blood supply is dependent on the Red Cross. They made contingency plans to decrease blood usage that they fortunately didn’t have to use but Ness is concerned about supply going into the summer which is always a difficult time, especially as we start to return back to normal.

"Elective surgeries have picked back up. More people are out and about so unfortunately trauma needs increase" said Ness.

He said they never have enough blood, but now it’s more important than ever to donate if you can. For Weingarten and her mom, it could change everything.

"If you want to do something that really makes a positive difference in someone’s quality of life, giving blood is a wonderful way to do it. And for folks out there who are already giving blood, I just want to say as a family member of somebody who is dependent on blood, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart," said Weingarten.

If you’ve had COVID-19, you can still donate blood, as long as you’re healthy and it’s been 14 days since your last symptoms. Also, all three FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines have no impact on your ability to give blood.

"We ask that if you received your vaccination internationally, that you double check, because there are a few of those vaccinations that require a two-week waiting period," said Bruce.

The Red Cross does a lot with your donation. Learn more about how you can make a difference in someone's life with a blood donation. The Red Cross is looking for new partners to host blood drives. Call1-800-Red Cross, go to, or email to coordinate one. If you cannot give blood, they are also in need of volunteers to support the blood drives.