Do you have blood? Donor centers could use them now
ONTARIO, Calif .– He’s a rare person who has a favorite phlebotomist, but Alan Bleemers is one of them. The 69-year-old retiree from La Verne has been donating blood for 48 years – the last 28 of them at LifeStream Blood Bank in Ontario, where Halina Youssef happily pricks her forearm about every two weeks.
“Needle sticks don’t bother me, and I think I can help people,” said Bleemers, who started donating blood when he was a junior at Cal Poly Pomona. He has since donated 117 gallons.
“My goal is 200,” said Bleemers, who, if he continues to give at the pace allowed by law, will be 85 before reaching his goal. The United States Food and Drug Administration limits blood donation to 24 per year, or about six gallons per year.
Bleemers is among the 70 percent of unpaid volunteer blood donors who are regulars, most of whom are over 50 and will eventually become ineligible due to illness or the age of routine donations, according to the America’s Nonprofit National Trade Association.
“Demographic shifts are challenging America’s donor base with aging World War II and the baby boomer generations who have supported the blood supply for decades. Millennials and young donors don’t donate at similar rates, ”said Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood, adding that less than five percent of people eligible to donate actually donate.
COVID-19 has only made it more difficult to train a new generation of donors. Most colleges and high schools offering distance learning courses, blood donations that take place on their campuses have been canceled.
“In normal times, we rely heavily on blood drives in schools,” said Fry, whose member organizations collect 60 percent of the nation’s blood supply. “This is not happening right now even though the school has reopened. Workplaces are also still remote, so blood drives are also canceled there. We really had to change the way we collect blood in this country. “
Normally, about 50% of blood drives take place in colleges, high schools and businesses, according to the American Red Cross. Now the Red Cross and other blood donation centers are looking to hotels, hoping to take advantage of unused ballroom space from canceled events and, in some areas, arenas of the. sports teams to organize blood drives in a way that allows for social distancing.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride since the start of the pandemic,” said Ross Herron, chief medical officer for the American Red Cross Pacific Division. While the early days of the pandemic saw an increase in blood donations in March and April, they slowed down in the months that followed.
The Red Cross has frozen blood in anticipation of a wave of COVID this fall and winter. Nationally, he currently has 6,000 units of blood, but Herron says the Red Cross needs “hundreds of thousands of units.”
Right now the blood supply is OK, Herron said, “but what we are really missing and need more donors for is COVID-19 convalescent plasma.”
Convalescent plasma donations come from two types of donors: those who were hospitalized with COVID and chose to donate afterwards, and those who never knew they had COVID but tested positive for COVID. antibodies.
In southern California, about two percent of the population has COVID antibodies, according to the Red Cross, and these people could potentially donate COVID convalescent plasma.
Many donor centers now offer antibody tests to induce blood donation, including the seven blood banks operated by LifeStream.
“People want to know their antibody status,” said Dr. Rick Axelrod, president and CEO of LifeStream, which recently added COVID antibody tests to the tests he already performs on donated blood to screen for them. for infectious diseases.
LifeStream collects three different types of blood products from donations: red blood cells (commonly used for traumatic blood loss), plasma (often used to help blood clot), and platelets (to help with transplants). organs and to fight cancer).
“The demand for blood products is far greater than what we normally collect,” Axelrod said, citing a return to elective surgeries that had been halted for several months at the start of the pandemic.
Axelrod said its blood banks currently have less than a day of universal group O blood to service the region’s 60 hospitals and are also five to ten percent short of group A and B platelets. It is now important. these pads from other parts of the country, he said.
As much blood as Bleemers has donated is just not enough to meet demand. But it helps.
“I like to donate blood. It’s pretty easy for me, ”said Bleemers, who aspires to be # 1 for most donations at LifeStream Blood Bank in Ontario. He is currently fifth. “It’s one of my hobbies besides gardening, weight training, biking, hiking. I just appreciate it.