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Blood donations wane

Heat, smoke and fires are being blamed for low donor turnout

Blazing heat and smoky skies have made blood donors rare birds in Jackson County this summer.

The American Red Cross fell short of its local blood-collection goal in May, June and July, and August doesn't look any better so far, said Madonna Sipal, blood services representative for the American Red Cross in southwestern Oregon.

Every single day we seem to be collecting 50 to 75 percent of what we need, Sipal said.

The fires have really had an effect. We've got fires burning all around us, and the heat keeps (blood donors) indoors.

Sipal said summer traditionally has been a difficult time to recruit blood donors, because people do more during the warm months. Families plan vacations, and other diversions make it easy to forget about donating blood.

Last week's meager local tally has been all too typical since May. Blood-drive organizers typically schedule enough volunteer donors to collect 50 pints of blood a day, but they failed to come anywhere near the mark last week. Volunteers donated just 33 units of blood Monday; 33 on Tuesday; 29 on Wednesday; and 38 on Thursday.

She noted that many regular blood donors are older people who started giving blood during World War II and made it a lifelong habit. Heat and smoke often wear heavily on seniors, and many of them who would ordinarily give blood have chosen to stay home.

Some federal employees who are regular blood donors have been called away to fight fires. Civilian donors who live near burned areas have stayed away, too. Sipal said some people canceled their appointments last week when the East Antelope fire seemed like it might burn toward Ashland.

The local shortage has exacerbated the scarcity of some blood types for the Red Cross' Oregon region, Sipal said. On Monday there were just two pints of B-negative blood in storage in Portland, where the goal is 19 pints. Type O-negative blood, the universal donor, was down to just a half-day's supply.

News stories about donated blood that had to be destroyed after the Sept. 11 attacks may have created some backlash about giving blood, too. In the days immediately after the attacks, donors gave far more blood than was needed. The volume of blood exceeded the national health-care system's ability to store or use it, and some had to be destroyed when its storage life expired.

Blood is just like milk, Sipal said, comparing the pull dates on milk cartons with the storage life for blood and blood components. The shelf life of blood products ranges from just five days for platelets to 35 days for whole blood and 42 days for red cells. Plasma can be frozen and kept for a year.

Walk-in traffic at Medford's ZLB Plasma Center (formerly NABI Biomedical Center) also has declined in recent weeks, said Debra Pingle, assistant manager.

We've been down maybe 20 percent, Pingle said. She said the plasma center tries to make about 1,300 collections per week, but the tally has fallen to around 1,100 in recent weeks.

Sipal said people need to realize that each individual's decision to give blood ' or not ' ultimately determines whether there will be enough blood. People don't see the impact of their one donation.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail