Region feels pinch for blood donations

For most of us, the summer months are the best of times with students out of school and families on vacation.

But for blood centers like United Blood Services in Thibodaux, the summer is the worst of times.

Blood donations fall off by one-third between Memorial Day and Labor Day annually.

“Thirty-three percent of our blood supply at most blood centers around the United States comes from schools, whether it’s high school students donating or parents giving at elementary or middle schools,” said Joanie David, United Blood Services donor recruiter manager.

“So when you get to the end of May, you don’t have those blood drives for three-and-a-half months,” she added.

In the summer, UBS relies heavily on churches to find donors because more people go to church in the summertime than any other time during the year, according to David.

“They become sort of the backbone of the blood supply at that time,” she said. “We also try to do special giveaways and promotions around the Fourth of July to attract donors who maybe have not given before.”

UBS is in particular need of donors who have the universal blood type O negative. As of a week ago, there were only five O-negative pints available for hospitals.

Six percent of the population has O-negative blood, but at hospital trauma centers, it accounts for as much as 80 percent of the blood transfused.

O negative can be transfused into patients with any of the four blood types – A, B, AB or O – without causing serious or fatal complications. That makes it crucial to have a supply for trauma patients who could bleed to death in the 20 minutes it takes to test and match blood.

“A lot of times hospitals don’t know the patient’s blood type and don’t have time to type them,” David said. “They use O negative to type them because it’s a perfect match for anyone.”

Neonatal care facilities also need fresh units of O-negative blood daily for the treatment of infants.

Volunteer blood donors must be at least 16 years old, weigh 110 pounds and be in good health. Donors between ages 16 and 22 require additional height and weight analysis to determine if their total blood volume is acceptable for donation.

If a donor is O negative and meets the height/weight requirements, then UBS will want to draw two double red cells because red cells are the most transfused blood product.

Double red cell donation is performed through a process called apheresis by which a machine takes the red cells and the white cells are returned to the donor.

“We do it on our bloodmobiles and at our centers. It just depends on what is needed at that time, what we’re low on the shelf with,” David said. “We make red cells, platelets and cryo (Cryoprecipitate).”

On average, only five percent of American adults donate blood. However, according to the American Red Cross, every two to three seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.

“When you do the math, our community needs people who are O negative to give blood at least twice as often as everyone else,” said Amanda Landers, UBS director of donor recruitment.

“We all expect blood to be available when we need it, but only a few of those who can give actually roll up their sleeves,” she added. “If you have O-negative blood, it’s time for you to get involved.”

United Blood Services is located at 2000 Audubon Ave., Suite E. For more information or to make an appointment, call (985) 625-5433

UBS is the area’s non-profit community blood provider and serves patients in 50 hospitals in 32 parishes from Alexandria to the Gulf Coast.

Regular donor Rhonda Gaubert of Thibodaux sits through a platelet donation at the United Blood Services office on Audubon Avenue. The region is experiencing a shortage and is seeking local donors.