View Full Version : Blood Is In Short Supply

07-08-03, 03:37 AM
Blood Is In Short Supply
Hospitals Delaying Elective Surgeries

July 8, 2003
By GARRET CONDON, Courant Staff Writer

Elective surgeries have been postponed in several hospitals around the state as physicians, patients and the American Red Cross struggle with the worst medical blood shortage in decades.

"I haven't seen an inventory shortage this severe in 25 years," said Dr. Ritchard Cable, medical director of the Red Cross Connecticut Blood Services Region, based in Farmington. "If we don't get a good response to this appeal, there will be an unprecedented health care crisis in this state caused by the lack of blood."

On Monday, the appeal for donors went national as the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers and the American Association of Blood Banks issued a plea for donors. Lesly Hallman, media relations associate for the American Red Cross in Washington, said that a number of cities supplied by the Red Cross have been hard hit by the crisis, including Dallas, Cleveland and Baltimore.

On Sunday night, there was only one unit of type O blood in all of Puerto Rico, she said. The New York Blood Center in New York City, which is not affiliated with the Red Cross, and its affiliates began cutting back on deliveries of O negative blood a month ago.

A three-day supply is considered optimal, but blood stocks typically decline in the summer and over the winter holidays as blood donors take vacations and high school and college students scatter. As of Monday morning, the Red Cross in Connecticut had about one-third of a day's supply of O positive blood, for example. Nearly 40 percent of the population has O positive blood, making it the most common blood type, according to the Red Cross. There was only one day's supply of type O negative blood - which can be safely given to any patient. Only relatively rare blood types - AB positive and AB negative - were at normal levels.

Last Thursday, Cable notified the state's hospitals that the Red Cross would not be able to supply blood for elective surgery or to restock hospital inventories. The holiday weekend was a mixed bag for the Red Cross, he said. The state's hospitals didn't use a tremendous amount of blood, but blood collections were 30 percent to 40 percent below projections. As a result, the supply was no better on Monday, and the restrictions still apply.

The Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven is among the institutions that have delayed a handful of elective procedures such as knee replacements, according to Dr. Randolph Reinhold, chairman of surgery at the hospital. Reinhold said that the four or five operations that have been put off since Thursday represent a tiny fraction of inpatient and outpatient procedures at St. Raphael, where 75 to 100 operations are performed daily.

"There is no emergency or urgent patient that hasn't been cared for," he said. He added that St. Raphael routinely uses such blood-saving techniques as recirculating a patient's blood back to the patient during surgery and, when possible, using drugs that cause a patient to create more red blood cells prior to surgery.

Other hospitals that reported postponing a few procedures were Hartford, Middlesex and Stamford hospitals. However, all hospitals reported tight supplies. Kelly Anthony, director of public relations at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, said, "We are very tight in all our blood supplies like other hospitals in Connecticut - type O positive and O negative are in very short supply." Hospitals are among those encouraging their employees to give blood. Bristol Hospital, for example, is conducting an emergency blood drive today. The Connecticut Hospital Association joined the Red Cross Monday in calling for more blood donors.

Cable said that blood collections have been below projections for several months. Until about Memorial Day, the state Red Cross has been able to get blood from other Red Cross regions. But supplies have been low nationwide for several weeks.

Cable said it is too early to tell if this summer's blood shortage is a freakish bit of bad luck or the beginning of a bleak trend. In June, the Red Cross began to exclude - "defer" in the jargon of blood banks - would-be donors who reported having a fever together with a headache in the past week. It is an effort to screen out those who might be infected with West Nile virus. It is one of a growing list of deferrals meant to screen out everything from SARS to the human version of Mad Cow disease.

As a result, Cable said, donors must respond to a long list of health questions - "an arduous inquisition" - before they can give blood. Dr. Robert Jones, New York Blood Center President and CEO, blamed the drop-off in donors in part on the long list of restrictions. "And we know from experience that as donors are turned away, even once, they feel spurned and do not return," he said in a prepared statement on Monday.

Still, Cable said that 75 percent of the 17-and-over population is eligible to give blood, but only about 5 percent actually roll up their sleeves. And the typical donor is middle-aged or older.

"There is a feeling that it's getting much, much harder to convince people to become blood donors

Donors can make an appointment to give blood by calling 800-448-3543 or visit www.bloodct.org to find a listing of community blood drives.