- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 13, 2003

RICHMOND — As Christmas approaches, state blood banks are hoping they won’t have to scramble to find blood platelets for hospitals, as they did after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Nothing untoward happened, but it becomes a whole process of planning for what could happen” and encouraging people to give blood, said Dr. Susan Roseff, director of transfusion medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Patients at VCU Medical Center got only half-doses of platelets last week because supplies were low after a shortage of recent blood donations. The immediate need is now over, but the hospital is looking ahead.

“The problem is that if one person thinks everyone else will donate, then nobody does,” Dr. Roseff said.

Blood supply is of concern to VCU Medical Center, the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville and other trauma hospitals, which treat victims of gunshot wounds, traffic accidents and other injuries.

“You should think about your child, your wife, your grandmother getting into a car accident and not having enough blood,” Dr. Roseff said. “It could happen to anyone.”

In addition to trauma patients, patients with blood disorders and those undergoing chemotherapy or bone-marrow treatments don’t produce as many platelets, so they must get transfusions.

Platelets are small, fragile components that help blood to clot by sticking to the lining of vessels and preventing blood loss. The shelf life for platelets is about five days, so they must be replenished constantly.

In central Virginia, blood donations dropped even lower than expected over the Thanksgiving weekend, said Pat Bezjak, vice president of hospital and laboratory services at Virginia Blood Services in Richmond.

“In three weeks, you have the same thing that’s going to happen … [and] the week between Christmas and New Year, companies are hesitant to have blood drives. You’re not back up to full tilt.”

Holiday activities can keep donors from giving blood, but ill health and bad weather also can be factors.

“You would be surprised by the number of people who have colds and the flu,”Miss Bezjak said. “There are more missed appointments during this time of year because of illnesses.”

A winter storm Dec. 4 took two days worth of blood out of the Appalachian Blood Services’ supplies, spokesman Bob Lutjen said. When schools and colleges close, for example, blood drives scheduled there for those days have to be canceled.

Blood collections at high schools and colleges account for 15 percent to 20 percent of the collections for the region, which covers 43 counties in western Virginia and southern West Virginia.

VCU Medical Center was back up to 20 units of platelets Friday, the minimum amount required, Dr. Roseff said. Four donations of whole blood yield one unit of platelets, she said.

Mr. Lutjen said blood donations nationwide dip each holiday season, and this year is no exception — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

“We try to remind people constantly that only 5 percent of the people eligible for donation give blood,” he said. “Any time you take a sizable chunk of those people out of the picture, you’re taking a big piece of the donor potential as well.”

Dr. Roseff noted that many people don’t realize that “blood doesn’t last forever” and must be replenished.

Donated blood is typically separated into three components: platelets, red blood cells and plasma. At five days, platelets have the shortest shelf life; red blood cells can last five to six weeks, and frozen plasma can last a year.

Donors with Type O blood are always needed, especially people who are O-negative — the universal donor.


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