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'It’s beyond disturbing': Blood shortage could lead to people in need going without

There is no substitute or synthetic replacement for blood, so donations are needed.

TAMPA, Fla — America’s blood supply is at such a critical level that for the first time in history, the American Red Cross has declared a national blood crisis.

The shortage means some people who need critical care may have to postpone life-saving surgery or treatment. If ever there was a time to donate, those in the blood business say this is it.

“It’s a scary situation,” said Steve Malave with Suncoast Blood Centers.

Suncoast services Moffitt Cancer Center and 15 hospitals in the Tampa Bay area south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. They’ve been sounding the alarm for a while, but now, as the Red Cross puts it, the situation is dire.

Of the 59 community blood centers across North America, the latest survey shows 17 are down to less than a days’ supply of blood. Another 10 have just one to two days’ worth. That means people who need emergency surgery or blood to treat diseases like sickle cell anemia, or cancer could be in trouble. Hospitals in some regions already delaying procedures — forced to set patient priorities.

“We don’t want to get into a position where we say, sorry there’s not enough blood,” Malave said. “It’s beyond disturbing, but you know it’s not improbable based on where we are right now.”

“It is probably the most challenging time that we have faced in our history when it comes to blood supply,” said Susan Forbes with OneBlood, serving about 250 hospitals in the Central Florida region, including Tampa.

The challenge, says Forbes, started with COVID and has only gotten worse. Sick donors can’t give. Some healthy donors aren’t comfortable enough to do so yet. And omicron has reduced the number of staffers able to take blood.

“None of us wake up thinking we’re going to need a blood transfusion,” Forbes said. “But traumas happen. Car accidents happen.”

To promote donations, centers are getting innovative: Suncoast Blood now offers a minivan that will come to you. OneBlood has a service that lets donors follow their blood to see where it goes — even a potential email from the person who receives it.

While 40 percent of Americans are eligible and healthy enough to give blood, only about five percent do and right now, even those numbers are down.

There is no substitute or synthetic replacement for blood. So, the centers in our region hope the Red Cross warning will inspire more people to give — now.

“You are in a pandemic and you say what can I do to help? How can I help? Donate blood,” Forbes said. “You’re making a massive impact. You are helping save people’s lives.”

If you’d like to help, there are blood donor locations scattered throughout the Tampa Bay region and several blood drives, too.

Find them here:

https://suncoastblood.org/

https://www.oneblood.org/