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Blood shortage prompts calls for life-saving donations

American Red Cross staff and volunteers are trained to help ease people’s concerns about giving blood.

As a national blood bank, the American Red Cross requires 14,000 units of blood donations from donors across the nation each day to meet patient demands. While demand for blood remains steady throughout the year, the Red Cross typically sees a lag in donations during the summer as donors’ busy schedules keep them away from blood drives and clinics.

The dip started early this year, with 39,000 fewer donations than needed as early as April, prompting the organization to issue a blood emergency notice.

“We could tell from appointments that we were going to be in a critical situation,” said Sue Thesenga, communications manager for the North Central blood services region of the American Red Cross. “Thousands of people responded to that emergency call, but we still need more.”

When a critical blood shortage hits, the Red Cross struggles to keep a five-day supply on the shelves as demand filters in faster than donations.

“If an emergency did happen and there wasn’t enough blood, a doctor could postpone an elective surgery, or in the worst case scenarios wouldn’t have enough blood for a patient,” Thesenga said. “We haven’t seen that happen at this point, but we’re trying to ensure that never happens.”

Dr. Luke Wood is an emergency physician who practices at St. Mary’s in Rochester and Mayo Clinic in Red Wing, which was recently designated as a level three trauma hospital by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Though Dr. Wood has yet to encounter a situation in which there wasn’t enough of a blood supply to address emergencies, Dr. Wood said blood products are also critical for recipients of organ transplants and for treating a number of hematological issues like leukemia.

In the aftermath of the shooting in Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which a gunman murdered nearly 50 people, blood banks and donation centers witnessed a surge in donations to help the more than 50 people injured in the shooting.

The increase in donations, Wood said, was impressive, but “underscores the idea that the need for blood products is always present regardless of national tragedies.”

“That same drive needs to occur outside of tragedies,” he said. “A majority of people who need blood products are normal people like you or me who a car accident and need blood products emergency.”

‘Just a pinch’

Nearly 40 percent of the population in the United States meets eligibility criteria for donation, but Thesenga says only about 10 percent will roll up their sleeves. But what keeps the rest of the eligible population from making blood donations?

“The number one reason we hear is because people haven’t been asked,” Thesanga said. “Some people just haven’t been raised in a family where their parents are role models who donate blood, so they don’t even know there’s a need for it. If you don’t see friends or family doing it, you don’t know that it’s something that’s needed.”

Another common hindrance that keeps potential donors from making life-saving donations is fear of needles. Thesanga said staff collecting donations are happy to make accommodations so that even the most squeamish donors .

“We’re very empathetic to people who struggle with that, but we want to make it as pleasant as possible,” she said. “One thing I do is just turn my head and think about my happy place. We have these little stress balls we have people roll in their hand or encourage people to bring headphones. We will accommodate people as well as we can and make it as pleasant and rewarding of an experience as possible.”

She also recommends bringing a “bloody buddy” for comfort and support and shifting focus from the immediate pain to the lasting difference a donation can make in someone’s life.

“It’s just a pinch, and for the two seconds of discomfort you might feel, you can leave knowing that you’ve helped give someone more time with a loved one and could have saved someone’s life,” she said. “What a great feeling that you could have made a lasting impact on someone’s life.”

How to donate

Donating blood is free, and the process is now fast than ever. Though donation sites often welcome walk-ins, appointments can be scheduled by visiting

www.redcrossblood.org or by downloading the American Red Cross blood donor app, which tracks donations and eligability.

Donors can also shave off 15 minutes of their appointment by registering with RapidPass, which allows patients to fill out pre-donation information from a computer or mobile device.

To sweeten the deal, American Red Cross is offering donors a $5 Amazon gift card to thank them for their contribution.

Donation opportunities in the Red Wing area:

•Aug. 18

Where: First Lutheran Church, 615 W. Fifth St.

When: 1-7 p.m.

•Aug. 19

Where: First Lutheran Church, 615 W. Fifth St.

When: 1-7 p.m.

•Aug. 31

Where: American Legion Post #54

When: noon-6 p.m.

•Sept. 1

Where: Culver’s, 179 Tyler Rd.

When: noon-6 p.m.

Where: Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, 24036 County 7 Blvd., Welch.

When: noon-6 p.m.

•Sept. 8

Where: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 320 West Ave.

When: 1-7 p.m.

•Sept. 14

Where: City Hall, 315 W. Fourth St.

When: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

•Sept. 20

Where: Southeast Technical College

When: 308 Pioneer Road

•Sept. 23

Where: Red Wing Public Library, 225 East Ave.

When: 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

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