Monday night of last week, Inova Blood Donor Services posted its latest plea on Facebook. A mother was expected to deliver her baby the next day at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Because of pregnancy complications, she would likely need a blood transfusion to survive. With blood and platelets in short supply, the healthcare system is hoping that real-life stories like these stir a sense of urgency in would-be donors.
“I’ve never seen a need this great and an inventory this low, and the response of our call to actions this tepid,” said Heather Wade, who has been employed with Inova Blood Donor Services for seven years, and has served as donor recruitment manager for the past four.
Just in the last week the need region-wide has been significant. Wade recalled that during a recent five-day period Inova had enacted six massive transfusion protocols in response to a variety of patient needs. MTPs cover everything from vehicle accidents and acts of violence to ongoing medical issues that require a significant amount of blood for a patient.
Wade said 200 donors are needed each day to sustain the blood supply on hospital’s shelves. With three donor sites open—in Sterling, Centreville and Annandale—and two blood drives around the region daily, Wade said right now they are getting between 130 to 150 donors “on a good day.” Of that 200, 30 platelet donors are needed.
Platelets are an especially critical resource for patients experiencing a traumatic injury, going through chemotherapy, and Wade emphasized that no donation, blood or platelets, goes to waste. Platelet donations take about 90 minutes, and donors can donate every 14 days. The shelf life of platelets is five days.
“There are never enough platelets,” she said glumly.
Wade said when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and most elective surgeries were deferred, turnout at blood donor centers was “great.” But since March of this year, she suspects in part because of the COVID fatigue, donations have been harder to come by, and Northern Virginia is in line with the nation in having an extremely low blood supply.
Inova Blood Donor Services supplies not only supply Inova Health System’s hospitals, but other hospitals in the region, some with as little as less than half their desired inventory to some where it supports 100% of what they need for their patient care, Wade said.
“We’re one trauma away from having a depleted supply across the area,” she said.
Wade said Inova Blood Donor Services has worked to make it as convenient as possible to donate, between the different locations of centers and blood drives and morning, afternoon and evening hours.
“What we want [donors] to know is that 60 minutes can save three lives. There is another family looking to create the same memories and experiences that you’re having; they just need a little help from a volunteer blood donor with 60 minutes of time,” she said.
Wade noted that more individuals than ever are eligible to donate, because the FDA has lifted some permanent or long-range deferrals right before the pandemic began.
She encouraged anyone interested in donating, either for the first time or the first time in a long time, to go to inovablood.org or call 866-256-6372 for more information or to make an appointment.
“It’s safe, it’s easy, it’s convenient, and it does so much good,” she said. “It takes a community to heal a community.”
StoneSprings Hospital Center in Aldie, which is currently not reporting an acute blood shortage, is working directly with the American Red Cross to help increase the blood and platelet supply. The two host a bimonthly blood drive at the Arcola Volunteer Fire Department annex, with the next drive set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 8. More information on Red Cross blood drives can be found at redcrossblood.org.