I-TEAM | Historic blood shortage pausing local procedures

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 6:43 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Blood is something we often take for granted. We assume if we need it, it will be waiting at the hospital. But, right now, that may not be the case.

Shepeard Blood Center is in critical need of O negative and O positive blood and platelets, and in urgent need of all other types of blood.

But, it isn’t just a problem we are seeing here at home. Experts say this ongoing blood shortage is a crisis nationwide affecting people like Robert Ryan, a local Airforce veteran with blood cancer. Occasionally, when Robert’s blood levels drop too low, he needs a blood transfusion.

His wife Clair spoke to us over Zoom from his hospital room. “Right now, there’s no blood to get. So he’s in the hospital waiting for someone to donate blood so that he can get blood.”

When we spoke to Clair, Robert had already been waiting four days in the hospital for a donor.

“There’s never been an instance where he’s had to go in the hospital for blood…someone who needs a bag of blood goes to the blood center, they get their bag of blood usually on an outpatient basis, and go home. That’s the norm,” she explained.

But, ‘the norm’ has been upended by the ripple effects of a two-year-long pandemic.

“He’s in that position because there’s a critical supply at the blood banks nationally. They don’t have it,” she said.

Local blood supplies tend to ebb and flow, but there are usually some safety nets in case of a shortage. But, right now, Ashley Whitaker, Director of Community Resources with Shepeard Blood Center says, all of those safety nets are gone.

“In the past, if we got in a bind and we needed a certain blood type, we could reach out to other blood centers and they could help us, and vice versa. But right now, no one in the nation has blood products,” said Whitaker.

What we have available here in the Augusta area depends entirely on what we give. It’s why they’ve teamed up with Augusta University Medical Center to host emergency blood drives on campus.

“It’s terrifying, honestly, because… I look at how bare the shelves are and if we were to have a larger scale accident here …it could be 10 people hurt in a car accident, we would not have the products to help them right now,” said Whitaker.

Whitaker says, for rare blood types like the O negative blood Robert needs to live, they were only able to fulfill 57% of the requests from local hospitals in December.

“There are faces to these people and my husband just happens to be one of those faces,” said Clair Ryan.

Our I-team found local blood donations dropped 7.5% from 2018 to 2020. Canceled blood drives during the pandemic caused bloodmobile donations for Shepherd to drop 39% from 2018 to 2020.

“Right now, this is a historic blood shortage,” Whitaker said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen it quite this bad.”

Dr. Jed Ballard, who works in the emergency department at Augusta University Medical Center, says the blood shortage has forced them to put some elective procedures on hold.

“Having that blood in the ER so we can treat them, get them home, and follow up outpatient is needed right now. We are completely out of beds in the hospital and we need that resource back,” said Dr. Ballard.

Shepeard Blood Center says they estimate they will need 37,000 units of blood this year to supply all of our area hospitals. That’s 14% more units than they received in donations last year. With the effects of the Omicron variant still raging, it’s a tall order.

But, you can help people like Robert. One donation saves up to three local lives.

Upcoming Opportunities

  • 1/18 Harlem Community Drive, 2 until 6 p.m.
  • 1/18 145 North Louisville Street Harlem, Ga. 30814
  • 1/21 Walmart- Sweetwater Square in North Augusta, 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
  • 1/22 Ole Edgefield Butcher Shop, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
  • 1/22 715 Augusta Road Edgefield, SC 29824
  • 1/27 TrueNorth Community Drive, 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. in North Augusta

You can also go to https://www.shepeardblood.org/ to find a blood drive near you.

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