Blood center sets goal to end shortage in South Texas

Growing demand for blood, along with more ineligible donors, puts strain on local blood supply
January 7, 2020

Just seven days into the new year, blood donations in South Texas are already 400 donations behind goal, leaving the community with less than a half-day supply of blood available for patients in area hospitals. 

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is asking the community to make 2,160 donations of blood and platelets by Friday, Jan. 10, to end the shortage. A swell of donors pushed the center close to its holiday goal the last two weeks of December, but demand has continued to grow. In fact, the need for blood was 10% higher in the last month of 2019 than the final month of 2018.

With local schools and businesses still on holiday, there were no blood drives scheduled in three of the first seven days of the month, putting a dramatic strain on the blood supply. In addition, the blood center is seeing an increase in the number of donors who are ineligible to give blood. 

“We’re hearing that many regular donors are unable to give blood, whether because of flu, or severe allergies, or other illnesses, and donor deferral rates are up at many of our blood drives,” said Elizabeth Waltman, chief operating officer of South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.

reggie_photo_stbtcCancer patients like Reggie Campbell make up a large percentage of the need for blood and platelet transfusions.

Campbell, a San Antonio photographer, is battling leukemia for the third time in his life, and he needs regular transfusions of blood and platelets as he undergoes therapy and searches for a matching marrow donor.

“You’re saving a life,” he said of giving blood. “You’re making patients feel more comfortable with whatever they are going through.”

Dramatically low blood supply levels can lead to the postponement of elective surgeries and treatments. It also leaves the community vulnerable to crisis events that may require large numbers of transfusions, since only the blood already on the shelves can be used in an emergency.

“Having an adequate blood supply is vital to patients and their families throughout South Texas,” Waltman said. “They are counting on all of us to make sure they receive the lifesaving transfusions they need.”

While all blood types are needed, the demand is especially high for type O-negative donors. O-negative donors make up just 7% of the population, but because O-negative blood can be used for any patient in an emergency,12% of the orders from South Texas hospitals are O-negative.

South Texas patients also are needing more type O-positive blood – orders for O-positive rose 17 percent in 2019.

Donors can schedule an appointment at SouthTexasBlood.org/WeNeedYou. Staff will work with donors to ensure that, based on their blood type, they make the type of donation that is most needed by local hospitals.

In addition, appointments can be scheduled at 210-731-5590.

Blood donations typically decline during December and January, as there are fewer drives at businesses and schools. But the need does not drop for cancer patients, new mothers and their babies, accident victims and people undergoing surgery.

Anyone wishing to donate blood must present identification. Donors of 16 years of age must have a signed parental consent form and weigh at least 120 pounds. Anyone over the age of 17 may donate and must be in general good health and weigh at least 110 pounds. All donors are encouraged to eat well and adequately hydrate before and after donation. Refreshments and snacks are provided to donors. In addition, all donor receive a wellness check. Learn more about blood donation at SouthTexasBlood.org.

Click to see additional photos or Reggie