Blood Donation - Be a First, First Responder
By: Jessica Brewer
COVID-19 has taken a toll on so many aspects in our lives. It has caused shutdowns for schools, businesses, community centers and more. Because of these closures, blood centers have seen significant decreases in the blood supply. Faith Nilhas, Blood Bank supervisor at LMH Health, said many of the closures were places organizing blood drives for the community. No blood drive, no blood.
“It’s very important to donate blood right now because so many community blood drives have been cancelled due to COVID-19,” Nilhas said. “The donor base has also declined because many of the baby boomers who have supported the blood supply for decades are at the age where they are experiencing health issues and are no longer able to donate. Due to people being sick with COVID-19, quarantining due to a COVID exposure and concerns about being out in the community and being socially distanced, the donor pool continues to decrease.”
Currently, blood suppliers are experiencing a blood shortage. Ideally the suppliers like to have a one to two week supply of blood on hand at all times, but being in a shortage means there is only a day or two supply on the shelves. Nilhas said COVID-19 has not decreased the demand for blood. It remains about the same, only now with very little inventory on shelves.
“The demand has not changed during the pandemic except for the first couple of months when some facilities temporarily stopped doing elective surgeries,” Nilhas said. “There were still patients who needed cancer treatment, babies were still being born, car accidents were still happening and there were still patients who needed emergency surgery. We actually saw an increase in GI bleeds in patients during the first few months of the pandemic which could have been attributed to added stress and increased alcohol intake.”
There are many benefits to donating blood. The first Nilhas mentioned is that you get a free screening which is similar to a mini physical. Those working at the donation centers will check your temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin levels. If any of these are abnormal, it could indicate an underlying health condition you may not have known about.
“On the other hand, donating blood is beneficial because you know that your blood could save the life of another person,” she said. “In a time of staying home and social distancing, we have found that for some, helping others and safely donating can give our donors a positive outlook and reduce the sense of isolation. These feelings can improve a person’s emotional well-being.”
Nilhas acknowledged the concern that many people may have about donating blood right now with COVID-19, but she confirmed that blood centers are taking extra precautions during the pandemic to keep blood donors safe.
“Masks are worn by staff and they are screened before being in contact with donors to make sure they are healthy and not at risk of COVID,” she said. “Masks must also be worn by the donors and appropriate distance is kept between donors. As always, all new and sterile equipment is used to collect the blood. COVID antibody testing is also available at some donation sites for people who donate.”
Blood centers are taking donations of convalescent blood plasma as well. The FDA encourages people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 for at least two weeks to consider donating plasma, as it may help save the lives of other patients.
“Those who have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate must present documentation of a positive COVID test,” Nilhas said. “They can donate either by a whole blood donation or through apheresis. Apheresis is a process where the donor’s blood is run through a machine that takes the plasma from the whole blood and then the remaining components of the blood are given back to the donor.”
One of the most common reservations people have about donating blood is that it will be too painful. Nilhas said though with any needle there will be a bit of a pinch, the staff does an amazing job of minimizing pain.
“It is important to drink plenty of water - not caffeinated beverages - prior to donation,” she said. “This is to make sure that you are properly hydrated which helps the collection staff will more easily find your vein and allow for good blood flow. Listening to music or reading a book during the donation can help one relax too.”
In your continued efforts to support your community, Nilhas asked that along with the kind words and support you have shown that you consider donating blood. This can make a difference and potentially give someone the gift of life.
“As someone who has worked in a blood bank or transfusion service for more than 25 years, it’s always concerning when we are notified by our blood supplier that they are experiencing a shortage and are unable to send us a particular blood product,” Nilhas said. “I worry that I won’t be able to give one or more patients the blood products they need. We work really hard to educate the medical professionals who order blood products that the blood supply is limited and that giving the right amount of blood to the right patients is very important. No one wants to be in the situation themselves or have a loved one be told that there is no blood available.”
Visit https://savealifenow.org/ today to find the nearest blood donation site to you. Additionally, LMH Health hosts a blood drive every other month and you can join us on March 7 for our next drive. To the community, thank you for your consistent and unfailing efforts to keep our community members safe during COVID-19 and beyond.