Many people may be surprised to learn that the American Red Cross ships blood across the country in many of the same ways that people travel. Depending on distance and the situation, blood products may go to a hospital or transfusion center by plane, car, bus, even by helicopter.
The process of delivering blood begins when a hospital or other facility places a call to any one of the Red Cross Blood Services Regions around the country. Blood that meets all testing and manufacturing requirements will be ready to send to hospitals in 48 to 72 hours.
Across the country, Red Cross Blood Services regions check their blood inventory each day and then work with hospital customers to fulfill orders for blood. Because patients are in need of blood virtually around the clock, Hospital Services staff are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to receive requests for blood products and to provide consultation services when patients have special needs.
If a region does not have the needed blood type or component, it can work with the National Inventory Management System team to locate available inventory elsewhere in the country. The inventory database is updated constantly to ensure that available inventory can be sent to the right place at the right time. Sometimes the only way to fill a request is from a Red Cross region more than a thousand miles away.
Before any blood product can be shipped, it must be packed appropriately. Whole blood, plasma and platelets have different compositions and need to be preserved in different ways. Platelets need to be maintained at room temperature and only last five days. Whole blood must be packed on wet ice, and frozen plasma needs to be packed in dry ice.
Once the blood is packaged and labeled for shipment, a Red Cross staff person determines the most efficient travel route. If the distance is only a few miles, someone will deliver the blood via car, van, or truck. If the distance is more than a few miles, the staff person will arrange for another form of transportation, such as a courier service or bus company. Finally, if the blood needs to travel hundreds or thousands of miles, the Red Cross arranges for an air courier service to transport the blood. There are times in an emergency when blood will be flown via helicopter to a hospital to help a patient.
Every year the Red Cross distributes about 9.2 million blood products to approximately 3,000 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country. Blood products help not only surgical patients and trauma victims, but also burn victims, cancer patients, patients with blood disorders and so many others.
The Red Cross Blood Services mission is simple: to ensure that every person in need of blood or blood products receives the blood they require. The need for blood is constant – every two seconds, someone in this country needs a blood transfusion.
To give blood, individuals must be 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), meet weight and height requirements (110 pounds or more, depending on their height) and be in generally good health. People should bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID when they come to donate.
If someone is eligible and would like to give blood, they can call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit redcrossblood.org for more information about donating blood, to find a blood drive near them, or to schedule a donation appointment.