Local blood supply low; donations needed

Phlebotomist Svetlana, left, readies Kin Thompson for a blood donation at a drive at Grand View School.

Oklahoma blood banks were already dealing with a shortage, as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused community blood supply to wane. But now, that shortage is worse due to the freezing weather conditions that hit the state.

With hazardous road conditions, fewer people had been making it out to give blood donations. So Oklahoma Blood Institute is experiencing an emergency need for donations of all types in Cherokee County.

“A single day of winter weather is manageable,” said Dr. John Armitage, president and CEO of OBI. “More than a week of sustained winter weather is devastating to the blood supply. We need eligible donors to donate immediately to ensure blood is on the shelves."

The OBI has distributed more than 20,000 units of convalescent plasma, which can be used to help patients recover from COVID-19. The bank reached that number only 2-1/2 months after distributing its 10,000th unit, since COVID-19 hospitalizations have created a spike in the demand for donations.

It’s not only COVID-19 patients who need donations, though. Blood transfusions are the most frequent procedure performed in hospitals, making them important year-round. The pandemic and inclement weather have increased the demand.

“Our patients still need life-saving blood supplies despite the weather,” said Dr. Kathryn Hughes, emergency department director for Cherokee Nation Health Services. “Blood supplies have a limited shelf life, so a decrease in supply can affect our availability for the upcoming weeks. Patients need blood products not only for resuscitation after a trauma, but more frequently for other medical reasons that require frequent transfusions, such as chemotherapy.”

Blood has no substitute and is perishable, with a shelf life of 42 days, which means it must constantly be replenished. The OBI provides more than 90 percent of the blood to the state, requiring 1,200 donors each day to keep a healthy supply.

“Our generous donors have always stepped up when the need is great,” said Armitage. “We’re counting on them now, as we face a period of historic weather and pandemic-related challenges."

Due to the one-two punch of COVID-19 and the storm, several blood drives were canceled. On top of that, there is now a nationwide blood shortage, which is why Northeastern Health System is encouraging people to donate if they can.

Kalynn Cobb, laboratory director at NHS, said blood products provided during local drives come back to the community and could help a neighbor in need.

“The demand for products like red blood cells, platelets and plasma has not decreased during the pandemic or the inclement weather,” she said. “We still see emergent cases like car crashes and injuries, cancer patients, surgeries, COVID-19 patients and those with illnesses requiring lifesaving blood products.”

The shortage has led to a change in donor eligibility requirements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow more people to give blood. Those who spent extended time in many European countries are no longer deferred due to Mad Cow Disease risks. The change will likely allow many veterans and military personnel to donate. However, those who spent three months or more in the United Kingdom from 1980-1996 will remain deferred, as will those who spent five years or more in France or Ireland from 1980-2001.

The following now only have a three-month deferral period, which were previously 12-month deferrals: Tattoos, ear piercings, and body piercings from unlicensed or unlisted facilities; blood transfusions; accidental needle stick or splash for health care workers; and travel to malarial-endemic areas. People with diabetes, high blood pressure or thyroid disease can also still give blood. OBI has a hotline for donors unsure of their eligibility; call 405-419-1538 for more information. Health adults age 16 or older of all blood types are encouraged to donate.

“OBI and NHS have been strategic partners for over 17 years,” Brian Woodliff, NHS President and CEO, said. “Because of that partnership, over 3,800 patients have received life-saving blood products, and that is something for our donors to be proud of. Weather permitting, get out and donate blood."

There are several blood drives slated in the following days, including: Wednesday, Feb. 24, and Thursday, Feb. 25, 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Northeastern Health System West Building, 1400 E. Downing St.; and Sunday, March 7, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Lowe's Tahlequah, 161 Meadow Creek Drive. Donors should visit OBI.org or call 877-340-8777 to schedule an appointment.

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