As the weather heats up every summer, blood supplies typically run low. And in this unusually hot year, supplies are even lower than usual.
"It's the lowest in 15 years," says Kristen Hatfield, marketing manager for Mid-Atlantic Blood Services of the American Red Cross.
As a result, the group is urging everyone to donate and to bring family and friends to donation centers and drives in the region. "We're not at the point that surgeries have been postponed or canceled. We're hoping to avoid that situation," Hatfield says, explaining that the Red Cross needs to collect 500 to 600 units daily to maintain Hampton Roads' blood supply.
The usual seasonal shortage is caused by vacationing high-schoolers and college students who make up 19 percent of the donor base in Hampton Roads. Then there's the added impact of this year's extreme temperatures. "A lot of people just want to stay indoors, but there's no substitute for blood," says Hatfield. "We have air-conditioning and drinks and cookies."
All blood types are needed, but those with Type O are particularly valued. Known as the "universal donor," O-negative, which occurs in 7 percent of the population, can be used by any blood type, while O-positive is restricted to any positive blood type. "If you're an O, then someone in your family is likely an O too," says Hatfield. She encourages people to bring family members with them when they donate. "I call them the blood celebrities. They have the ability to be so philanthropic."
Donated blood is needed by a variety of patients, from premature infants and trauma victims to those with sickle cell anemia and cancer. "An average transfusion requires about three units of blood, but a trauma patient could need 100," says Hatfield. She adds that blood has a shelf life of 42 days and people can donate every 56 days.
During this hot spell, blood donors are advised to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of non-caffeinated beverages before and after donation and getting plenty of rest.
To encourage donations, the American Red Cross has several special events coming up, including free admission to the Virginia Zoo on Sunday, July 29, for its blood drive and, throughout the month of August, a free haircut at participating Sport Clips, which has locations in Hampton and Newport News.
Want to give blood?
Call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or go to http://www.redcrossblood.org to find a drive or donation center near you. Also check eligibility criteria, for example, regarding tattoos, piercings, travel, etc., which are subject to change.