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Combating the blood shortage: Blood drives see 30 percent fewer donors in summer

 

Starkville locals Slade Ferguson, far left, and Jennifer Ashworth, far right, prepare to donate blood with the help of phlebotomists Xavier Jacobs and Cordelia Carter in a Mississippi Blood Services bus outside of Starkville's Chick-fil-A Monday.

Starkville locals Slade Ferguson, far left, and Jennifer Ashworth, far right, prepare to donate blood with the help of phlebotomists Xavier Jacobs and Cordelia Carter in a Mississippi Blood Services bus outside of Starkville's Chick-fil-A Monday. "I came here today with my husband Cody to donate. I think it's important to give when you can," Ashworth said. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Slade Ferguson of Starkville donates blood in a Mississippi Blood Services bus outside of Starkville's Chick-fil-A Monday.

Slade Ferguson of Starkville donates blood in a Mississippi Blood Services bus outside of Starkville's Chick-fil-A Monday. "I'm giving double the amount of blood today. So instead of only saving three potential people, giving double helps a total of six," Ferguson said.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

 

India Yarborough

 

The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.

 

Despite Mississippi Blood Services hosting five to 10 drives a day, the center's blood banks are in short supply. 

 

According to Merle Eldridge, the MBS director of marketing, the blood center's summer drives see 25 to 30 percent fewer donors than other times of the year. 

 

"The unfortunate thing about the summer is people get so busy with traveling that donating blood is not on the top of their minds anymore," Eldridge said. 

 

That makes it difficult, she added, for the blood center to provide for the 45 hospitals it serves across the state. 

 

"It requires anywhere for 250 to 300 donors per day to meet the needs of those hospitals," Eldridge said.  

 

Houston Sherrod works as a donor specialist for MBS -- a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 and the only blood center headquartered in the state to be licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

 

Year-round, he and a team of about five others travel across the state to collect blood through a mobile donation center. 

 

Sherrod said MBS' collection work is even more critical during summer months -- a time when blood centers across the country often experience shortages. 

 

"A lot of our blood drives take place at colleges and high schools," he said. "With them being out, (donations) slow down a bit." 

 

Sherrod and his team made stops this week at Chick-fil-A locations in Starkville and Columbus. 

 

Sherrod said his team collected about 13 units of blood Monday in Starkville and 14 units of blood Tuesday in Columbus, though Eldridge said each of MBS' mobile donation centers is capable of seeing 25 to 35 donors a day. 

 

OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville also hosted a blood drive July 13, collecting 36 units of blood -- 11 more than expected. OCH, though, doesn't keep the blood it collects. Those units are placed into MBS' general state pool. 

 

Tom Sheward, director of OCH's lab and blood bank, said the hospital typically uses about 100 units of blood per month. That need is always met, he added. 

 

Mary Todd Gordon, director of sales for The Claiborne at Adelaide assisted living center, took time from her work day Monday to visit Chick-fil-A's Starkville location. Gordon, who said she felt a responsibility to help others, saw an advertisement for the drive on Chick-fil-A's Facebook page. She shared the post with friends to encourage others to join. 

 

"I definitely look for opportunities to give back because I feel so fortunate to have good health," she said. 

 

Monday was the Starkville native's second time donating blood, a roughly hour-long process she called "painless." 

 

"I would encourage everyone with good health to take a little time and give back," she said. "We may never know the impact we make, but I hope we do it in good faith to help someone who may be in great need." 

 

 

 

Collecting for a cause 

 

Sherrod said Mississippi Blood Services sends teams all over Mississippi to collect blood donations "for people who have been in car wrecks, people who need transfusions." 

 

According to the blood center's website, units of blood are required by surgery patients, cancer patients, those with sickle cell anemia and others. A whole blood donation can save up to three lives, the website notes. 

 

Whole blood donations -- the most popular type of donation and one of two donation options at mobile sites -- have a shelf life of three to five weeks. A power red donation, which provides a concentrated amount of red blood cells, has a shelf life of up to 42 days, according to the American Red Cross. 

 

The MBS website says regular whole blood donors may give every two months. While the blood center encourages donations of all blood types, Eldridge said MBS particularly looks for O-negative donors. 

 

"That's our universal donor, so if an emergency happens, that's going to be the type that's needed most frequently," she said. 

 

Eldridge added, though, that all blood types are in short supply, and O-positive and O-negative are in "critical need." 

 

"What we try to share with people is that every two seconds someone needs blood, and you never know when it's going to be somebody you know and love," she said. 

 

Eldridge said MBS coordinates with other blood centers, so if her center cannot collect enough in a given day or week to provide for Mississippi's hospitals, those partner centers help make sure it's there. 

 

"The important thing for donors to remember is that the blood you donate today is going to help somebody two days from now," Eldridge said. "In the event of an emergency happening today, the blood would need to have already been on the shelf, so it's important donors come out and donate as often as they can." 

 

 

 

Upcoming drive 

 

Columbus' Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle will host its own blood drive Friday at the hospital's outpatient pavilion conference center. 

 

Baptist partners with another blood center, United Blood Services -- a nationwide group -- to collect donations. At the hospital's most recent drive in May, UBS collected 45 units of blood. 

 

Like OCH in Starkville, though, the blood collected at Baptist does not remain at the hospital. It goes into UBS' general pool and is distributed to partner hospitals. 

 

According to Sandi Kilburn, Baptist's blood bank supervisor, the hospital uses between 200 and 300 units of blood a month. She said UBS always meets the hospital's need but that when shortages of specific blood types strike, Baptist must change the type of blood it gives patients. 

 

"There has been a shortage of O-negative for about a month," Kilburn said. "We had to change some patients from using O-negative to using O-positive. It's doable but not ideal." 

 

According to Baptist's community relations coordinator Donna Grant, this week's blood drive will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. She said donors wishing to cut down on wait time, should visit www.bloodhero.com to make an appointment and complete a fast track health history. For more information on MBS, go to www.mbs.com.

 

 

 

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