In January 2022, the American Red Cross declared its first-ever national blood crisis due to a severe blood shortage resulting from complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, hospitals and physicians were forced to make difficult decisions about how to best use the limited available supply of donated blood.
‘WAITING FOR SOMETHING THAT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE’ Kristen Mill of Spring Grove, Illinois, was one patient impacted by the blood crisis.
Kristen, an athlete, competitive horse rider and a loving dog mom, suffers from ongoing health problems caused by a tick bite in 2008. Her body doesn’t produce enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen in her blood, and when her hemoglobin levels drop, blood transfusions are essential for her to survive. She needed weekly transfusions to treat this condition for much of the summer and fall of 2021 and into 2022.
During one of her visits to the hospital for transfusion, she was told the hospital had no blood that matched her and she would have to wait until the right match was available.
“The hospital came to me and they apologized, and they said, ‘We’re so sorry, our blood bank is depleted to the point where we don’t have anyone that matches with you,’” said Kristen.
The reality of the limited supply of blood sank in for Kristen. “It’s very scary, especially if you don’t know if the blood is coming, because this is something that you need to live,” she said.
Unfortunately, Kristen had to wait for blood on multiple occasions after that first incident.
“It became quite common that I would have to wait two or three days for blood. Then my condition would get worse, and I’d need to be hospitalized while waiting for blood. It usually took two days, sometimes three days, which is a long time when you are waiting for something that could save your life,” said Kristen.
BLOOD DONORS HELP OVERCOME CRISIS After the Red Cross issued the national blood crisis alert, there was a strong response from the public with many generous individuals rolling up a sleeve to donate to help those in need, like Kristen. Thanks to the support of countless blood donors, the blood supply slowly recovered to sufficient levels by spring 2022, ensuring patients could receive the medical care they needed.
Kristen is thankful to all those who donate and has become an advocate for blood donation. “I don’t want this to happen to other people,” she said. “There is nothing greater you can give someone than the gift of life. To have people donating lifesaving blood is just incredible and essential.”
Unlike other medical treatment that can be produced in a laboratory, blood can only come from volunteer blood donors and must be constantly replenished due to its short shelf life. One in seven patients entering the hospital will need a blood transfusion — whether they are accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, or those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease. To meet the needs of these patients, the Red Cross must collect approximately 12,500 blood and nearly 3,000 platelet donations every day.
HOW YOU CAN HELP To help prevent blood shortages, the Red Cross encourages those who are eligible to commit to donating on a regular basis. Patients are counting on the kindness and generosity of blood donors. This holiday season, we urge you to give blood or platelets to help make a lifesaving difference for those in need. Visit RedCrossBlood.org to schedule an appointment today.
This is story is part of a special series on how people responded to crises in 2022 through the American Red Cross. Read our 2022 year-in-review press release to learn more.