Blood work

After a stellar year in 2001-02, Tri-State blood donations have flatlined, leaving exasperated Red Cross officials wondering wha

After a stellar year in 2001-02, Tri-State blood donations have flatlined, leaving exasperated Red Cross officials wondering wha

September 23, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Shortly after 10:30 last Wednesday morning, Teresa Elwood stood next to a blood drive registration table at the Hagerstown Community College Student Center.

Behind her, students sat at tables studying or passing time before their next class. Down the hall, volunteers worked to draw blood from donors.

When a new face walked her way she turned, wearing a warm smile and offering a simple question: "Are you here to give blood?"


Donor? No donor?

No donor. Sigh. The wait continues.

The blood donation is need of a transfusion of new donors - stat.


A convergence of factors has resulted in a blood bank nearly overdrawn, with an uncomfortably low blood supply the Red Cross says will last for under two days - and that has hovered between a half-day and day and a half for much of the last year.

A year ago, the Red Cross was flush, with more people giving blood than they knew what to do with. So many turned out in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that too much blood was collected across the country, though not in this region.

Greater Alleghenies Region of the American Red Cross Blood Services CEO Tom Angle decreed that blood drives would only exceed their goals by 120 percent in the days after 9-11. So, if a drive had a goal of collecting 100 units, no more than 120 would be drawn.

A special blood drive was set up at the Elks Lodge on Robinwood Drive on Sept. 12, 2001, and closed two hours early after 300 pints were collected, three times their goal.

Nationwide, the surge of donations of blood after Sept. 11 was a rare surplus wasted because supply outweighed demand. Blood that had not been stored properly was discarded.

"Unless it hits your immediate family, your friend, your neighbor, it takes something like that (the terror attacks) to spur them on just to get over their fear of donating," says Elwood, director of blood services for the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Still, fiscal year 2001-02 was a watershed period for Washington County, with donations up 7 percent from the year before. For a year, every blood drive hit 93 percent to 95 percent of its goal.

Slowed to a trickle

But this mid-September blood drive at HCC is indicative of the problems facing the Red Cross across the Tri-State area and nationwide.

The Red Cross fiscal year begins July 1. To date, Berkeley County, W.Va., has collected 941 pints, down from 974 pints in the same period a year ago.

In Jefferson County, W.Va., the situation is more dire. Through September 2001, 690 pints had been collected. This year? 418. Even a late month drive at Shepherd College is not expected to boost the tally beyond 500 pints.

Since each pint of blood collected is separated into three or four parts, including platelets, red blood cells and plasma, 500 pints can potentially help save 1,500 lives.

Pennsylvania districts are having varied success rates, according to field representative Margaret Dohmen, based in Johnstown, Pa. Last September, Franklin County blood drives yielded 679 units. This month, 255 units have been collected thus far, with another four or five blood drives yet to occur.

But in Waynesboro, Pa., operational efficiency is through the roof, almost 14 percent higher than this time last year at 114 percent.

"Waynesboro ... they have some really dedicated donors out there," Dohmen says. "Each territory is different, though."

Take Washington County, for instance. In August 2001, the Red Cross collected 1,100 pints of blood. Last month, donations slipped to 900 pints.

"We're trying to motivate people, make them understand the need is real," says Lisa Hart with the Greater Alleghenies Region of the American Red Cross Blood Services. "This is a life-saving event."

The Alleghenies region covers a six-state area including Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Ideally, Hart says, the Red Cross would like to keep a five- to seven-day supply on hand but that they often settle for three days.

There hasn't been a three-day supply of blood available since a month or two after 9-11.

"Once it's out of their face, the interest just subsides and wanes and people don't realize the need is real every single day," Hart says. "Unless it hits you, unless you see the need, it doesn't become real. We just have to make it real to those people."

Obstacles are sizable. More and more, potential donors are being deferred for reasons as varied as spending too much time abroad since 1980 or seeing their most reliable donors - senior citizens - not being able to step in as they have in the past.

As for West Nile virus, there is no validated blood test to screen blood for the disease, but blood drive workers do screen potential donors for visible mosquito bites and West Nile symptoms, a Red Cross spokesperson says.

"Tattoos," Elwood says of another factor cutting down the number of students who can donate. "I can not tell you how many people have had tattoos and that's a year deferral."

Making donors

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