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Nation faces dangerous blood shortage

Red Cross photo Oregon boy Hans Weberling, shown with his sister and dog, received more than 100 blood transfusions during his battle with cancer.
American Red Cross urges people to donate blood

Lara Weberling could tell when her son Hans needed another blood transfusion during his battle against cancer.

He would grow limp and exhausted, suffer severe nosebleeds and bruise easily.

“When he got a transfusion of red blood cells, you could just see him perking back up and being brought back to life,” Weberling said.

Hans was diagnosed at age 3 with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that most commonly strikes babies and young children. During his six-year battle with cancer, he received more than 100 blood transfusions.

Hans lost his fight to cancer in 2012.

His mother now works for the American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply.

A Portland resident, Weberling spoke out Tuesday about the desperate need for blood donors to help patients.

The American Red Cross is facing a dangerously low blood supply and its worst blood shortage in more than a decade. The shortage is jeopardizing everyone from cancer patients to car accident victims.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of blood drives, especially those hosted by high schools and colleges. Teens and young adults used to donate about 25% of the blood distributed by the Red Cross, but that number has fallen to 10%, said Angel Montes, Red Cross regional donor services executive.

Montes said the organization has less than a one-day supply of critical blood types.

Doctors and hospitals are being forced to make difficult decisions about who will receive a blood transfusion and who will have to wait, he said.

Montes said the Red Cross serves about 60 hospitals in Oregon and Washington, along with hospitals in other parts of the country.

Hospitals had to deal with blood shortages before the pandemic, but the situation has grown worse, said Dr. Rachel Cook, quality medical director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program.

“Nearly two years into the pandemic, the situation is now at a crisis level — with fewer and fewer people donating blood,” she said.

Cook said the situation has become so dire in recent weeks that hospitals can no longer give blood to everyone who needs it. A leukemia patient who is experiencing shortness of breath may have to wait behind other patients who are bleeding, undergoing emergency surgery or have blood counts so low they could die.

Some hospitals are also delaying major surgeries because of the blood shortage, she said.

“People often ask me what they can do for their loved ones who are going through terrible illnesses, how they can help, and I can say, ‘donate blood.’ I’m always struck by how many people have just never thought of doing it,” said Cook, who is a blood donor herself.

She said there are routine blood donors who have been giving blood for years, but they can’t do it alone.

“We need a new batch of people who are going to step up and donate. With a single blood donation you can make a big difference,” Cook said.

During January, which is National Blood Donor Month, the American Red Cross and National Football League have teamed up to urge people to help tackle the national blood shortage.

January blood donors will automatically be entered for a chance to win a getaway to the Super Bowl in February in California. Donors also have the chance to win a home theater package and a $500 gift card.

“I’d just like to say thank you to all the blood donors out there — especially in this unprecedented time when your donations are so desperately needed,” said Weberling.

To make a blood donation appointment, see redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-733-2767.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect number for the American Red Cross. The number has been corrected.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.