In the early months of 2021, area residents can bestow a life-saving gift on the community simply by rolling up their sleeves.
Local officials are encouraging people to donate blood in the coming weeks in an effort to ensure hospitals have enough on supply to treat accident and burn victims, patients having heart surgery or organ transplants, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease.
Blood supplies levels are critically low throughout Indiana, as a typical winter lull in donations have been exasperated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Simply signing up for a local blood drive can make an impact, said LaMar Holliday, regional communications director for the American Red Cross, Indiana region.
“If we think about the winter months, inclement weather and seasonal illness really impact donors, on top of dealing with a pandemic. It’s been really challenging to get people to come out and donate blood,” he said. “This is normally the time we see fewer donors coming in, so we want to make that push so people come out and make a lifetime difference.”
Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, according to the American Red Cross. About 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed every day in the country.
The problem stems from meeting that demand, even during optimal times of the year. Just 38% of the population is eligible to donate blood or platelets. At the same time, those cells cannot be manufactured in a lab setting; they can only come from volunteer donors, according to the Red Cross.
“One thing we want people to realize is that a single donation can save up to three lives,” Holliday said. “When we don’t have donors coming in, the need is still great. People still need blood.”
The Red Cross is not the only organization concerned about the low blood supply. Versiti Blood Center of Indiana, which supplies blood services, blood products and specialty services, provides assistance to more than 60 hospitals across the state.
The organization struggled to get blood donations and maintain its supply throughout 2020. At times in March, May and October, the organization issued emergency appeals to donations, and it was estimated that on Oct. 20, less than one-day’s supply of blood was available to Indiana’s hospitals and medical centers, said Dr. Dan Waxman, vice president of transfusion medicine and senior medical officer for Versiti.
The main driver in the shortage was cancellation of community blood drives, such as at schools, churches and civic organizations, due to the pandemic.
Compared to an average year, donations with Versiti were down more than 50% — or nearly 20,000 units of blood — from those key contributors last year.
In an attempt to counteract those blood deficits, a number of donation drives have been planned throughout Johnson County. Events are scheduled at the White River branch of the Johnson County Public Library, Community Church of Greenwood and Saints Francis and Clare Catholic Church in February.
People can also donate at Versiti Blood Center’s Greenwood location, which is open seven days a week for appointments. All blood types are needed, especially O-negative, which is the universal blood type given to patients in emergency situations and those undergoing surgery.
At both Versiti’s Greenwood office and events planned throughout the community, precautions are in place to help protect against COVID-19. To ensure donor safety, masks and temperature checks are required, and social distancing is enforced.
People donating with the Red Cross are asked to make an appointment on the organization’s website, by calling 1-800-Red-Cross or using the group’s donor app on their smartphone.
“We want to make sure in the midst of the pandemic that we are keeping people safe while they’re donating blood,” Holliday said.