Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Red Cross seeks donors as blood supply dwindles

Summer schedules mean fewer donations and critically low levels

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When Silver Spring native Marilyn Miller and her daughter get together for an afternoon of bonding, it involves much more than the typical trip to the mall or a chat over lunch - they donate blood.

"My daughter did it first and she said, ‘Oh, mom, I'm going to give blood do you want to come?'" Miller said. "And then it was a mother-daughter thing and it was something we did regularly every six weeks and now unfortunately she's further away in Baltimore, but I just want to continue to do it as long as I can and I'm capable."

And continue she does. Miller, at age 72, is what Jerry Gordon, the blood donor chairman for Samuel Gompers-Benjamin Franklin Masonic Lodge, calls a "true regular."

Miller and her daughter started donating about 15 years ago at the American Red Cross offices in Silver Spring, which have since closed. Now, Miller donates when groups like Gordon's organize a drive.

Gordon says his group, which has been organizing blood drives five times a year for about 35 years, works in cooperation with the American Red Cross and the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. They organize the event together, bringing a blood mobile to somewhere accessible in the community, such as Temple Emmanuel in Kensington where the lodge is having a drive Tuesday.

Before each drive, Gordon and his volunteers try to get the word out by contacting prior donors they have on file and advertising the event in local newspapers. According to Gordon, most of the donors who show up are previous donors they have contacted, although some people who drive by will stop and donate, which is actually how Miller and Gordon got acquainted.

"One day, I just happened to be driving by and I saw they were having a blood drive, and I was like, ‘Oh, I'll give this a try,'" Miller said. "And they were just so friendly. They remember you and make you feel welcome."

Miller said anytime she is in town and knows there is a blood drive, she makes an effort to be there. But despite her regular donations and those of others consistently throughout the year, blood supply levels continue to dwindle during the summer.

According to Katie McGuire, spokeswoman for the greater Chesapeake and Potomac blood region of the American Red Cross, people are typically on less regular schedules during the summer and are often traveling, which creates a less steady flow of donations.

"We are in a pretty critical situation right now. People go on vacations in the summer and schools are out so we can't collect on high school and college campuses," McGuire said. "So that puts us behind from the very beginning of the summer. … Blood donations get pushed to the back seat in peoples' minds."

Although, WHC has only seen a slight dip in its blood supply levels during the summer, the local supply at the American Red Cross is at a critically low level.

According to McGuire, the Red Cross currently has less than a day's supply of B positive and O positive, and a one day supply of O negative. Ideally, they would have a three to five day supply of all blood types.

"This is pretty typical of how it's been for the past several weeks with a lot of blood types falling below the one-day mark," McGuire said. "But it fluctuates on a day to day basis, but typically we have below what meets the needs of the hospitals and people in the community."

According to Dr. Kirsten Alcorn, medical director, transfusion and blood donor services at WHC, when there is not enough blood to go around, the hospital has to look at what patients are in the most critical need. In the most dire situations, they may have to delay a transfusion by a day or two.

In anticipation of these summer lows, both WHC and the American Red Cross said they get aggressive in their promotions of local blood drives, often working with media partners and community groups to get the word out. WHC tries to get out into the community fives day a week, working with groups like the Samuel Gompers-Benjamin Franklin Masonic Lodge. The American Red Cross also tries to keep its donor centers in Gaithersburg and Rockville open longer.

So blood donors, such as Miller, who can be counted on for regular donations do in fact make a critical difference.

"I would tell people to think about it this way," McGuire said. "You are going to take just one hour of your time today and three days from now, that hour of your time will give a lifetime to someone else."