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Red Cross Reports Scattered Blood Shortages

January 3, 1990

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The regional office of the American Red Cross on Wednesday reported its most critical blood shortage in three years, forcing changes in surgical schedules and threatening care at 93 hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Nationally, critical shortages also were reported in parts of Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and Virginia. Most of the nation was simply experiencing a normal post-holiday tightening of supplies.

Other Red Cross centers such as those in Los Angeles, Kentucky, Maine and Massachusetts said they had ample supplies, ensuring enough blood products could be distributed to other regions in the event of a disaster.

″I’m not having any indication that we’re having a general shortage across the country,″ said Pat Davis, a national Red Cross spokeswoman in Washington.

The Red Cross collects about 6.2 million units of blood per year, or more than half the nation’s blood supply. A unit is 450 milliliters, or slightly less than a pint.

Severe cold weather in December combined with the usual drop in donations at holiday time to create the crisis in five southeastern Pennsylvania counties and nine southern New Jersey counties, said Dr. William C. Sherwood, director of the Red Cross Penn-Jersey Region.

″Supplies are so low that over New Year’s weekend we curtailed distribution of red cells and platelets sharply and worked with physicians and hospitals on a case-by-case basis,″ Sherwood said.

A heart bypass operation was postponed for two hours Tuesday at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, said Dr. Ierachmiel Daskal, chairman of the hospital’s department of pathology. The blood went to an emergency case.

The Penn-Jersey region, which provides 94 percent of the blood used in 93 hospitals in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, needs about 1,750 donors a day and was down to about 1,000 donors daily.

In Atlanta, daily donations had dropped to half the 900 units collected normally and an emergency appeal was issued for type-O blood. ″We need 800 donors over the next few days to get supplies back to a safe level,″ said Ann Wilcox, spokeswoman for the Red Cross blood bank serving more than 100 hospitals in 82 Georgia counties.

Similar emergency appeals were under way in the Great Lakes blood region, based in Lansing, Mich.; the Tidewater region, based in Norfolk, Va.; the Tuscon, Ariz., region; and the southern Florida region.

″It means that without an immediate public response to that appeal, there may not be enough blood available for patients needing either elective or emergency types of surgery,″ she said.

Blood supplies generally tighten every year during the holiday season and again during the summer because donors become involved in other activities. In Arizona, a flu outbreak contributed to the drop in donations, while severe weather kept donors home in Virginia, Red Cross officials said.

″Over the last two weeks, more than 15 percent of our donors were unable to give blood because of the flu,″ said Kay Donohoe, director of donor resources in Tucson.

″Our shelves are bare,″ said Red Cross spokeswoman Chris Chidley in Miami, where the organization normally has at least a three-day supply of blood, or about 1,500 pints. Tuesday’s inventory was down to 300 pints for 66 hospitals from Key West to Palm Beach.

″I estimate we are 48 hours from canceling elective surgery,″ said Dr. Bruce Lenes, Red Cross medical director for blood services in South Florida.

Robyn Klesath of the Red Cross Tidewater region in Norfolk, Va., said the shortage there of type-O blood stems from two ice storms that hit southeastern Virginia just before Christmas, closing many roads and leaving more than 40,000 people without power.

″We lost nearly 1,000 pints because of canceled blood drives,″ Ms. Klesath said.

Janet Connor, administrator for the Central Illinois Community Blood Bank in Springfield, Ill., said the seasonal shortage there was being met by aggressive phone calls to potential donors.

″We don’t end our day unless we get enough,″ she said.

The Central Illinois bank’s donor list has 10,000 people. An estimated 8,000 are active donors. The blood bank needs to supply 25,000 units of blood annually.

LifeSource, the largest blood center in Illinois, is ″experiencing the typical holiday shortage of blood donors; however, we are not in a crisis,″ said spokeswoman Jan Sturis.

She said LifeSource had its worst crisis ever in August and September. ″We were actually to the point of thawing frozen units; we keep some on hand, for rare blood types,″ she said.

LifeSource, a joint venture between the American Red Cross and the Blood Center of Northern Illinois, had 304 units of O-negative blood on the shelves Tuesday, she said. The center considers 500 units ″optimal″ for that type, she said.

Fred Greene, administrative director of the Wadley Blood Center in Dallas, said the center had 6,000 units of blood in December, about 2,000 fewer than normal.

But he said the shortage is not serious enough to force curtailment of surgery.

Mary Joe Smith, manager of the Parkland Blood Donor Center in Dallas, said an increased number of trauma accidents over the holiday season helped create a shortage there. It wasn’t critical enough to curtail elective surgery, but a liver transplant was delayed by a short supply of the specific blood type that was needed.

A minor blood shortage was reported in parts of upstate New York, but not enough to affect surgery, Red Cross spokeswoman Kathy Geary said.

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