Frightening US Blood Shortage Delaying Surgery
CNN News, September 19, 2000
The blood supply in the United States has gotten so low that some hospitals are being forced to cancel elective surgeries, officials from the American Red Cross said Tuesday. "Ideally we need at least three days' blood supply," said Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the organization. "Virtually all our regions are looking at one day or less. This is a critical shortage ... one of the most serious we have ever seen." Both the Red Cross and America's Blood Centers (ABC), which together represent virtually all U.S. blood banks, reported severe shortages. Supplies are often tight at the end of the summer because many places that typically hold blood drives, like schools and universities, have been out of session. But a crisis in September is unusual and alarming, said ABC's Melissa McMillan. "Shortages at this time of the year are uncommon," McMillan said. "It's a bit frightening, to be honest." One problem is an increase in the demand for blood products. More people are undergoing heart surgeries, chemotherapy, organ transplants and other treatments that require large amounts of blood. Just one liver transplant can use 120 units of donated blood, McMillan said.
Elective surgeries have been postponed in Los Angeles, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Atlanta, Georgia, the Red Cross said. In one hospital, even organ transplants have been cancelled. "Imagine having to wait for the opportunity to wait for one of these organs," said Dr. Lanne Maes of the Medical University of South Carolina, "and then when one is finally available to you, to have to turn it away because we don't have the blood products. Imagine that happening once - not just once, not just twice, but three times. This is a situation that occurred at our hospital this summer." Healy said 32 of her group's 36 regions were on appeal, which means either they have less than a day's supply of blood available or they simply have inadequate supply to meet hospital demand. Those cities in urgent need include Baltimore, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Los Angeles and Philadelphia, according to the Red Cross. ABC said there were severe shortages throughout the Northeast. The increase in demand far outpaces the increase in blood donations, Healy said, with donations increasing annually by about 3 percent and demand growing at 6 percent. The Red Cross needs 80,000 units on hand daily, but now has only about 36,000 a day, according to Healy. Healy said many people forget how many procedures require blood. "There is no substitute for blood products, for human blood," she said. When there is a shortage there is nothing else that can take its place." Healy urged people who are eligible to donate. "There are many, many people who meet all of the qualifications to be blood donors and don't give blood," she said.