Over the past five weeks, three powerful hurricanes have devastated communities in the U.S. Despite floodwaters, debris and power outages, patients in these same communities battling illness and injury continue to depend on lifesaving blood donations. The need for blood is constant.
Every day, the American Red Cross must collect nearly 14,000 blood donations to meet the needs of patients across the country. The Red Cross is grateful for the volunteer heroes who generously donate blood or platelets on a regular basis to ensure a readily available supply.
Blood Donations during Disasters
It is important that the Red Cross has a sufficient blood supply on hand to meet patient needs and be prepared for emergencies of all types. Blood can take up to three days to be tested, processed and made available for patients, so it is the blood products already on the shelves that help save lives in an emergency situation.
The need for blood during disasters depends on the impact of each disaster – each one is unique. Disasters that impact a large area of the country and force the cancellation of many blood drives, or disasters with a larger number of injuries may require an increase in blood donations to help meet patient needs and replenish the blood supply. Harvey, Irma and Maria have posed blood collection and product distribution challenges for a number of blood providers.
Disasters can also make it difficult to deliver blood products to the hospitals. During Hurricane Harvey, the Red Cross worked with federal and local authorities on the ground to airlift boxes of blood and platelets to our hospital partners due to dangerous floodwaters. Today, transportation logistics remain tremendously challenging both on and off Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Despite these ongoing challenges, the Red Cross has managed to continue to deliver blood and platelets to the island since landfall.
Help Ensure a Sufficient Blood Supply
Eligible donors can give blood or platelets to help ensure a sufficient blood supply. Platelet and type O blood donations are especially needed. Schedule an appointment to donate blood or platelets using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
With only a five day shelf-life, platelets are constantly in demand, and often needed by those who are extremely ill. Platelets are tiny cells in your blood that form clots and stop bleeding. With such a short shelf-life, platelets supplies often quickly dwindle during disasters when regularly scheduled deliveries are disrupted or blood collection organizations cannot collect new platelet donations.
Type O negative red blood cells, type AB plasma and platelets play a critical role in hospitals. In situations where there isn’t time to determine a patient’s blood type, emergency personnel reach for type O negative red blood cells and type AB plasma – which can be transfused to patients with any blood type.
The Red Cross depends on generous volunteer blood donors to provide lifesaving blood for those in need – each and every day – not only during times of disaster.
Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in most states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood or platelets. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.