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Blood Donation Shortage Explained

KOMO TV, Seattle

Associated Press article highlighting executive media coaching for Red Cross Chief Medical Officer and other directors as they explain the difficulty of recruiting blood donors with ever expanding donor restrictions.

Red Cross Faces Summer Blood Shortage In Northwest

PORTLAND, ORE. - The American Red Cross Faces a growing blood shortage as summer donations slack off and hospitals require more units for medical procedures. 

The Pacific Northwest region has less than a one-day supply of the four most in-demand types of blood, said Darrin Greenlee, director of donor services.

Over the last two weeks, the Portland-based branch has seen a steady decline in its blood supplies, Greenlee said. Type-O blood, the universal donor, is in highest demand.

Blood donation traditionally slows down in the summer, he said, when regular schedules are interrupted for vacations.

"Often blood donation is the first thing that gets knocked off the to-do list," Greenlee said.

That's bad news for the 81 hospitals in Oregon, Washington and southeast Alaska that rely on Red Cross blood. They're used to setting aside a three-day blood supply.

All hospitals currently have enough blood to care for cancer patients and crash victims, Greenlee said. But if a major disaster hits, they could be caught off-guard.

Dr. Lance Trainor, the region's chief medical officer, said the demand for blood is mounting as medical procedures such as bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy become more common.

Plus, the Red Cross faces a shrinking donor population, he said. Its oldest, most reliable donors - the World War II-era population known as Generation Give - are becoming blood users as they age.

Travel restrictions designed to prevent the spread of mad cow disease dropped donors by 2 percent, Trainor said. And there are measures to avoid HIV, hepatitis and other diseases.

Of the remaining donors, half give blood only once a year, he said.

That's left the organization relying increasingly on people like recent first-time donor Marie Lee.

The Vancouver resident received blood in 1991 when she started bleeding uncontrollably after a hysterectomy.

Lee, 51, doesn't know who donated those lifesaving units.

"I'm just thankful that they did," she said. "I'm just thankful it was there."

So when Lee heard the Red Cross had low supplies of her blood type - B-positive - she jumped at the opportunity to give some back. She brought her mother-in-law, Rita Lee of Beaverton, along to donate.

This summer, the Red Cross hopes to draw donors to more than 500 blood drives scheduled throughout the Northwest, spokeswoman Amanda Calnan-Vowels said. Some revolve around social events, such as Saturday's Rock and Roll Up Your Sleeve.

Another promotional effort, a convoy from the Save a Life Tour 2003, recently rolled through the Northwest. The convoy, now in Utah, pairs educational and entertainment events with an interactive, mobile museum on blood donation.

"Certain groups of donors need that type of enticement," said Greenlee, the director of donor services. Others have busy schedules that require blood drives come to them.

Either way, Calnan-Vowels said, it's imperative that first-time and repeat donors do their part. The Red Cross wants to collect 1,000 pints a day.

"Cancer doesn't have a summer holiday," she said. "Accidents don't go on vacation."

For More Information:

You can call 1-877-24BLOOD (242-5663) to set up an appointment to give blood. Also, visit these Web sites for more information: