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blood donation

A worker with Vitalant works on Alexandra Occelli as she donates blood during a blood drive held at Hoboken Rec Center on June 25, 2021 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Red Cross Declares First-Ever Blood Shortage Crisis in US

The warning that "lifesaving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed" comes amid a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Jessica Corbett

Due to problems tied to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the American Red Cross on Tuesday declared its first-ever national blood shortage crisis, warning that already, "doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait."

"We're doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors."

The plea for "critically needed" blood and platelet donations comes during National Blood Donor Month and amid a surge in U.S. Covid-19 cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"Every community in America needs blood on a daily basis," said Dr. Pampee Young, the Red Cross' chief medical officer, in a statement. "At a time when many businesses and organizations across the country are experiencing pandemic challenges—the Red Cross is no different."

The organization, which supplies 40% of the nation's blood, has seen a 10% decline in donors since the beginning of the pandemic, which has also caused blood drive cancellations and staffing challenges.

"While we are all learning how to live in this new environment, how we spend our time, where we work, how we give back, how we make a difference in the lives of others—donating blood must continue to be part of it," said Young.

The Red Cross is urging those who can donate—especially people with O positive and O negative blood types—to schedule an appointment "as soon as possible" through the Red Cross Blood Donor App, RedCrossBlood.org, or 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

The Red Cross joined with America's Blood Centers and the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies for a statement Monday highlighting the blood collection problems created by the pandemic as well as winter weather.

"In recent weeks, blood centers across the country have reported less than a one day's supply of blood of certain critical blood types—a dangerously low level," the trio said. "If the nation's blood supply does not stabilize soon, lifesaving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed."

"The hospital came to me and they apologized, and they said, 'We're so sorry, our blood bank is depleted to the point where we don't have anyone that matches.'"

Young pointed out that "while some types of medical care can wait, others can't."

"Hospitals are still seeing accident victims, cancer patients, those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease, and individuals who are seriously ill who all need blood transfusions to live even as Omicron cases surge across the country," she added. "We're doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors. We need the help of the American people."

Due to health issues stemming from a tick bite in 2008, Kristen Mill requires weekly blood transfusions. During a recent hospital visit, the Illinois resident had to wait for a match.

"The hospital came to me and they apologized, and they said, 'We're so sorry, our blood bank is depleted to the point where we don't have anyone that matches with you,'" Mill recalled in a statement from the Red Cross. "It's very scary, especially if you don't know if the blood is coming, because this is something that you need to live."

Mill said that in recent weeks, "it has become quite common that I would have to wait two or three days for blood. Then my condition would get worse, and I'd need to be hospitalized while waiting for blood. It usually took two days, sometimes three days, which is a long time when you are waiting for something that could save your life."

"I don't want this to happen to other people," she added. "There is nothing greater you can give someone than the gift of life. To have people donating lifesaving blood is just incredible and essential."

Dreylan Holmes, an 11-year-old with sickle cell disease, also recently had to wait two days for a transfusion.

"Sometimes I can't do things when I'm hurting, like sometimes I can't get out of bed," Holmes told CBS' Norah O'Donnell of his condition. "It didn't feel good having to wait when I was in pain."

His mother, Vesha Jamison, added that the wait was "very scary, because that was actually the first time that we didn't know when the blood was coming."


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