Chris Gorman of Lincoln and his family rushed his mother, Lynda Gorman, to the emergency room while in her hometown of North Platte in early January. Her hemoglobin levels were dangerously low, and she needed a blood transfusion.
Doctors recommended that she receive two units of blood, but they were only able obtain one unit, due to the shortage. She remained hospitalized for 11 days before being stable enough to be seen by a specialist in Lincoln who diagnosed her with acquired hemophilia, a rare but life-threatening bleeding disorder.
She did not receive a second unit of blood until two weeks after initially going to the ER because of the shortage. She is now staying with family in Lincoln and receiving treatment.
The American Red Cross has had to limit the amount of blood distributed to hospitals in recent weeks, said the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. On certain days, some hospitals may receive less than one quarter of the blood products requested.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Cross has experienced a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood. Pandemic-related issues, such as blood drive cancellations and people being less comfortable leaving the house, have played a role in the shortage, said Josh Murray, the Nebraska-Iowa communications director for the Red Cross.
During the colder months, there are typically fewer donations coming in, said Murray. Combined with the pandemic, the Red Cross is in desperate need. According to Murray, just one unit of blood has the potential to save three lives.
“Health care systems are really struggling right now, and this [the blood shortage] is pretty preventable,” Gorman said. “We just need to kind of get people back up to what they were donating before the pandemic.”
The American Red Cross said type O blood (both positive and negative) is regularly in short supply. Type O negative blood is universal and is therefore needed for emergency transfusions and immune-deficient infants. Type O positive is the most common blood type; 37% of Americans have type O blood. Type AB blood is universal for plasma donations. Plasma donors receive financial compensation.
About 45% of Caucasians, 51% of African Americans and 57% of Hispanics have type O blood. Therefore, minority populations play a vital part in meeting the country’s need for blood, the Red Cross said.
Blood cannot be manufactured or stockpiled, so the only way it can be made available is through donors. Blood has a shelf life of four weeks, Murray said.
“We know that if we have a good week this week, it doesn’t mean that in a couple weeks we will be good or that a few weeks from then we will be good,” he said. “We have to continue to collect at a high level in order to meet that need.”
Gorman understands how easy it can be for someone to think they are too busy to donate blood. He has dodged calls from the blood bank in the past, too. But now, he said he is going to always pick up the phone and get scheduled to donate every week.
“These things happen to you, and you get a brand new perspective on what’s important,” he said. “Is it watching TikToks or playing video games, or is it ‘Hey, I’m going to go donate 30 minutes of my time to potentially save somebody’s life?”
He also said the experience is much easier than one might think.
“The nurses are great, it’s not really painful, you’re in and out in about 30 minutes, you get a snack at the end and you get to just play on your phone,” he said.
Gorman helped raise awareness for blood donation by posting about his experience on social media platforms, and he said he heard from about 20 people who said they went and donated after hearing his story– many were first time donors.
To make an appointment to donate blood or platelets, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).