- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

Many D.C.-area residents went deep into the red with generous giving this holiday season. Unfortunately, the regional Red Cross is not nearly as deep into the red as it would like to be. In fact, it is currently facing a critical shortage of blood.

Blood supplies of all types are seriously low, but there is currently less than a day's supply left of O negative and B negative. The Red Cross should have about a 5-to-7-day supply of blood on hand at all times. However, national blood supplies have been well below that optimum for some time. A significant part of the problem is that most of us simply can't be bothered to donate. Despite the fact that 60 percent of us are eligible blood donors, only five percent only one of every twenty of us actually does so.

In a worst-case situation, those low supplies can mean the literal difference between life and death the postponement of life-saving surgeries or the giving of life-sustaining transfusions. While the Washington area is not yet at that point, it's worth noting the possibility that September 11-style emergencies could strike at any time. We live or work in the American city most likely to suffer a terrorist attack, so the blood you donate may well save your own family or friend's lives. Even under normal conditions in the United States, a blood transfusion is necessary every two seconds, according to the Red Cross.

And even when it is not used to save lives, the blood supply must constantly be refilled, since the components of blood platelets, red blood cells and plasma can only be stored for limited durations. Platelets, used to treat cancers like leukemia, can be kept for only five days, while red blood cells can last up to 42, and plasma can be stored for years.

Asking those who already donate blood once per year to consider doing so twice does not seem like too much to ask, especially since donors can give up to once every 56 days or six times a year.

However, the real solution to the Red Cross's chronic blood shortage lies not with the 5 percent who are already giving blood, but rather with rest of us. For those of us in the latter category, it's an appropriate time to resolve to give at least once this year.

To set up an appointment, call the Red Cross donor line at 1-800-GIVE-LIFE. Or find out more information on local blood centers and donor requirements by clicking to https://www.my-redcross.com.

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