The Nation Has a Major Blood Shortage

ByDeborah Zabarenko

W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 19, 2000 -- A critical shortage ofblood has forced the cancellation of elective surgeries in LosAngeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta, the American Red Cross saidtoday.

Both the Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers (ABC), whichtogether represent virtually all U.S. blood banks, reportedsevere shortages at a season when blood supplies are usuallyadequate.

One of Worst Shortages

“This is one of the worst ones that the Red Cross hasseen,” Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy said in atelephone interview.

Healy said 32 of her group’s 36 regions were on appeal,which means either they have less than a day’s supply of bloodavailable or they simply have inadequate supply to meethospital demand.

Those cities in urgent need include Los Angeles, Baltimore,Detroit, St. Louis and Philadelphia, according to the RedCross. ABC said there were severe shortages throughout theNortheast.

Need to Cancel Elective Surgery

She said the Red Cross had advised hospitals to cancelelective surgery in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

The reason for the shortage is increased demand, much of itdue to the increased number of complex therapies such aschemotherapy, organ transplants and heart surgeries, whichrequire large amounts of blood and blood products, both groupssaid.

Just one liver transplant can use 120 units of donatedblood, ABC’s Melissa McMillan said by telephone.

The increase in demand far outpaces the increase in blooddonations, Healy said, with donations increasing annually byabout 3 percent and demand growing at 6 percent.

Behind by 40,000 Units

The Red Cross needs 80,000 units on hand daily, but now hasonly about 36,000 a day, according to Healy.

“People often forget for how many medical procedures bloodis a vital necessity,” Healy said.

Blood shortages are common during the summer months, whenschools and businesses are less likely to have blood drives,according to spokeswomen for both the Red Cross and ABC.

But a crisis in September is unusual and alarming, McMillansaid.

Shortages Uncommon This Season

“Shortages at this time of the year are uncommon,” saidMcMillan said. “It’s a bit frightening, to be honest.”

The Red Cross got its message across in a starkadvertisement in Monday’s Washington Post : “URGENT: BLOODAPPEAL. This is a crisis. More patients need blood and weurgently need your help. Please, give blood right away.”

Those who wish to donate blood can call the Red Cross at1 800 GIVE LIFE. They can also call ABC at 1 800 BLOOD 88 or contact its Web site at

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