Published on June 10, 2022

Donate blood and save a life

You may have seen a headline or two about the importance of blood donation and the recent blood shortages many in the United States are facing. So, what is a blood shortage? Faith Friesen, the blood bank supervisor at the LMH Health Laboratory, said to put it simply, it means we may not be able to get the blood products we need when we place an order because the supply is simply not adequate.

There are many reasons blood donations are vital, including helping patients survive surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses and traumatic injuries. At this time, Friesen said there is no alternative to blood.

“Right now there is no artificial substitute for blood,” she said. “If real human blood is not available there is nothing we can substitute for it. Nothing has been successful in trials at this time and if we do not have donors, we cannot provide for those who need blood to survive. If you are able, we strongly recommend you donate when you can.”

So where does your blood go when you donate? Friesen said the blood donated at an LMH Health-sponsored blood drive will go into the Community Blood Center's general blood supply. Though it may not go directly to LMH Health, it does support the blood center that provides for our region.

“Regardless of our blood drives specifically at LMH Health, if the whole inventory of blood is down, it will affect all of us. This is why it is so important to donate, not just at our drives, but at any you are eligible to donate at,” Friesen said. “The Community Blood Center supplies blood to about 70 local hospitals, LMH Health being one. We order an average of 100 units a month and when we have a drive, we typically receive 80-90 units. We are fortunate to have a blood center who supplies us with blood because if we had to rely solely on our drives, we would not have enough to replenish what we use.”

Saving lives every day

Though you may think of the classic movie scene where someone has been in a horrific accident and needs many units of blood fast, that is not the only reason we need blood on hand. For many, blood is needed to simply stay alive.

Sharon Soule, MD, an oncologist with the LMH Health Cancer Center, said there are patients kept alive because they receive blood donations every week or two. The center’s oncologists and hematologists have extensive experience in treating a wide range of cancer types, including solid tumors, hematological cancers and benign blood disorders. 

Dr. Sharon Soule

Dr. Sharon Soule

“We have patients who for various reasons, their bone marrow doesn’t make enough red blood cells. Sometimes this can be a lifelong issue, and sometimes it is temporary,” Dr. Soule said. “To keep them alive and their heart moving, they need blood. Some transfusions are to help with the quality of life and energy. The range depends on conditions, but your donations help save lives daily.”

She said the need for blood for an oncology or hematology patient is fairly common. There are different reasons a patient may need blood, but despite the reason, the supply of blood needs to be replenished weekly.

“For our hematology patients who do not have cancer, we will typically see a bone marrow disorder in which their body no longer produces blood on its own. For our cancer patients who get chemotherapy, they may just temporarily need blood transfusions because their bone marrow doesn’t make enough and needs to be supported,” Dr. Soule said. “The amount of blood needed just to support a life is equally as important as someone who needs blood because they have lost it due to a significant injury.”

When it comes to denying a patient blood, Dr. Soule said that is the ultimate fear. A blood shortage adds a layer of stress to the system. Though the LMH Health Cancer Center has never had to turn a patient away because of a short supply of blood, there is always the risk when we are in such a significant blood shortage.

“We have had to work harder to get our blood,” she said. “We have been fortunate that the blood bank is very proactive in ensuring our orders are filled, but it is still so important that if you can donate, you do.”

Donations Matter

In August 2020, Karen Horner, a patient at the LMH Health Cancer Center and Lawrence community member, was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) – a type of cancer that the American Cancer Society describes as a condition that can occur when the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow become abnormal. Because of this diagnosis, Horner would need blood transfusions to live.

“I have blood work done each week to determine how many units of blood I will need. Sometimes it’s one unit, sometimes it is two. It all depends on where my counts are, but regardless, I need blood,” she said.

Horner said when her counts are low, she can tell. Symptoms like shortness of breath and difficulty with physical activity such as moving around or taking a shower becomes increasingly difficult.

“I get more fatigued more often when my red blood cells are low,” Horner said. “When I have my transfusions, I can tell that I have more energy and can do more things. I am at LMH Health often because my body needs blood.”

When asked about the importance of blood donors, Horner said, “well, they are pretty much life savers.” She said she has to depend on her doctor to let her know how much blood she will need and on the donations to keep her alive and living a higher quality of life.

“It is very important that I receive blood - my quality of life depends on it,” Horner said. “Being a blood donor does not just help in emergencies, but it helps those who are dependent on other’s blood because their bodies no longer make enough. People’s lives depend on it.”

Dr. Soule said when people ask what they can do to help someone with cancer or another major illness, she tells them blood donation is hugely important. Though you are unable to directly donate to one person, you can donate to the Community Blood Center which supplies LMH Health’s needs and the needs of many local community members.

“Blood is so major for our patients in living a high quality of life,” she said. “They cannot do it without your help and donation. Keep an eye out for blood drives at LMH Health and also visit the Community Blood Center’s page to see where you can donate today. It may not be as convenient as walking into your local hospital, but it could truly save a life.”

Don’t know your blood type? Friesen said the easiest way to find out is by donating blood because it’s free!

“Having a variety of blood types is crucial,” Friesen said. “We order blood almost daily but we do not know day to day what types we are going to need. Type O negative is fairly rare with approximately 9% of the population being that type. It is considered as the universal donor and is often given in emergent situations where the blood type of the recipient is undetermined. So, often times there are extreme shortages of O negative and we may not have our blood order filled. We sometimes receive blood that has been shipped in from other blood suppliers such as New York Blood Center.”

Friesen said different blood types are needed and diversity in donors is important as well. Diseases that occur in certain ethnic groups, such as sickle cell disease in African Americans, may cause the patient to need frequent transfusions and they often require rare blood types. These can be extremely difficult to come by so having a large, diverse blood donor pool offers the best chance of finding compatible blood quickly.

We need you! To learn more, visit www.savealifenow.org and see where you can donate blood closest to you.

“It takes less than an hour to donate blood,” Friesen said. “That is less than an hour of your life that can be donated to saving someone else’s. We hope you will consider being a first, first responder!”

Join us for our upcoming Blood Drives

LMH Health will host a Blood Drive on July 7 at the LMH Health West Campus and July 8 at the LMH Health Main Campus. Your donations matter! Our last blood drive was a huge success.

“One hundred seventy units collected over two days – that may be close to a record for LMH,” shared Kim Clark, donor recruitment account manager for Community Blood Center. “When we raise the goal, LMH continues to meet the challenge.”

Ready to register today? Click the link here for July 7 and here for July 8.

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Jessica BrewerStory by Jessica Thomas

Jessica is the Social Media & Digital Communications Specialist at LMH Health.


Donate blood and save a life

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