Red Cross issues urgent plea for help as it deals with worst blood shortage in decades

The Red Cross is issuing an urgent plea for help as it deals with a severe blood shortage, the worst its seen in decades.

Whole blood and platelets are at critically low levels and hospitals are reporting a desperate need.

Throughout the pandemic, Jeff Werden of San Gabriel never stopped giving blood.

"I felt there was a great need and that I needed to donate blood more often," Werden said.

Despite his efforts and those of other regular donors, blood product providers such as Lifestream in San Bernardino and the American Red Cross are in the precarious position of stretching their supplies as far as they can.

"It's about as bad as I've ever seen it in over 30 years actually," said Dr. Ross Herron, Divisional Chief Medical Officer of the Red Cross.

He said he's had to prioritize which hospitals and patients need blood the most several times over the last few weeks.

"When it gets below three days, we start to decrease how much blood we're sending out on a regular basis," Herron said. "So if somebody has an order for 100%, we may send out 50%."

During lockdown, elective surgeries were drastically reduced. There were less traumatic injuries because there were less people on the road. The Red Cross was able to manage its limited supply, but now that California has reopened, the organization is facing an unprecedented challenge.

"We're collecting blood pretty briskly already, but we need even more because the demand has been much higher than we expected," Herron said.

People who regularly donate are starting to leave on vacations or return to their workplaces. Many are cancelling their appointments.

The Red Cross needs first-time donors to come forward, vaccinated or not. What hospitals need most right now are O Positive, O Negative, B Positive and B Negative blood types.

"Life-saving organ transplants are happening and that requires a lot of blood," he said.

Herron expects the demand for platelets and whole blood is going to be high throughout the summer. To make an appointment call 1-800-RED CROSS, go to RedCrossBlood.org or download the Blood Donor app.

The September 11 attacks inspired Werden to be a routine donor, and he hopes people will feel the same calling following the pandemic.

"It's the right thing to do," Werden said. "It's a good thing to do. It saves lives. It gives people a second chance."

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