Need for Blood in Northern California Soars as Restrictions Skyrocket

It was quiet on a Thursday on the second floor of Alameda Hospital. Although a blood drive was well under way, only eight or nine people had donated blood by 2:30 that afternoon. “Our goal for today is 40 units,” says Luis E. Galindo, Team Supervisor, of the American Red Cross. “That’s forty people,” Galindo said, clearly concerned that not even ten per cent of hoped-for donors had yet made their way to the blood drive.

The concern Galindo has about the blood supply in Alameda County extends well beyond this recent blood drive at Alameda Hospital. “We have a constant shortage of blood here in Alameda County, and throughout Northern California,” Galindo said, adding, “Even a minor earthquake in the Bay Area could pose a large problem in terms of our available blood supply.”
Galindo explained that, while the number of uses for donated blood has increased greatly, so have the number of restrictions on those who can donate.

For instance, the advent and spread of Mad Cow disease means that many people who have visited or recently resided in Great Britain cannot give blood. Those who visited malaria-prone areas in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America are prevented from donating blood for up to one year after returning to the United States, or three years after emigrating. Given the globetrotting nature of many Americans, this drastically reduces the number of available donors. As both Mad Cow and foot-and-mouth disease spread, additional restrictions, formulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), may be forthcoming.

Even those who have been infected with Hepatitis A – which is commonly contracted by eating tainted food and not uncommon in many urban areas – are prohibited from donating blood. Add that to citizens with AIDS or HIV and those who have shared needles for drug use at any time in their lives, and the number of available donors shrinks further.

Adding to the shortage are, ironically, many advances in modern medicine. While many patients are heroically fighting – and beating – cancer, those who have undergone chemotherapy cannot ever give blood after they have undergone treatment.
“You also have many surgeries and other lifesaving procedures that were not performed as often or were not possible 30 years ago,” Galindo adds. “Organ transplants are occurring at record rates. They save lives, and that is great. But they also use blood donations, and our supply has not kept up.”

In the half hour or so we have been talking, no one has come through the doors to donate blood. It does not make Galindo’s job any easier, but it is a job he will not stop doing. “It is all worth it because it saves lives,” he says, noting an earthquake that hit the Napa Valley several years ago. “In the Napa earthquake, there was one kid injured. He took 19 pints of blood. Today, he’s alive. That makes it worthwhile.”

To give blood at the traveling or fixed site nearest you, call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or visit the Bay Area Red Cross’ web site, www.bayarea-redcross.org, for donation days and times at each center.

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