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Additional 200 blood donors a day sought to meet growing needs of South Texas patients

Blood donations at South Texas Blood & Tissue Center fail to keep up with increased demand from area hospitals

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center needs an additional 200 blood donations a day to keep up with the region’s growing needs for transfusions.

Orders from hospitals throughout the 48 counties served by the center are up an average of 20% from a year ago, and donations are not keeping pace.

Blood donations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s seven donor rooms, as well as at community blood drives, are averaging around 400 a day. The center, which is a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global, needs 600 a day to meet patient needs and to re-build the blood supply, which is critically low.

The shortage of blood has a human face to it. Leukemia patients like 2-year-old Amy require regular transfusions, which help keep up her strength as she undergoes chemotherapy.

“I think there’s an idea that there’s some big endless supply of blood, that hospitals don’t run out,” said Amy’s dad, Ryan. “That’s simply not the case. We’ve seen a slight bit of that and it’s enough to frighten us.

“What if it took eight hours? Eight days? What would that look like? It’s frightening, especially when every patient’s situation is so unique and different, and a lot of it is life-threatening.”

Cancer patients like Amy receive the largest percentage of transfusions in this country every year.

Donors can make an appointment with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting SouthTexasBlood.org. Same-day appointments are available at the center’s seven donor rooms, as well as at community blood drives.

Part of the shortfall in blood collections is the result of a decline in the number of community blood drives, which began last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations that historically had sponsored large drives either canceled drives out of a concern for safety, or because didn’t have enough workers on-site to make a drive feasible.

More than 1,000 fewer blood drives were held in 2020 alone.

The center also has seen a decline in the number of appointments at its donor rooms in San Antonio, New Braunfels and Victoria.

The shortage is not just limited to South Texas. Blood centers across the country are appealing to donors to give, even as social distancing requirements remain in place. About 60% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but only 10% of those who are eligible actually make at least one donation a year.

In South Texas, more than 6 in 10 existing blood donors give just once a year. If those one-time donors came back for a second donation, collections would increase by more than 110 a day alone.

In addition, a change to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for blood donors last year made thousands of South Texans eligible to give blood for the first time in decades. Members of the military, their dependents and civilian military employees who lived in Europe for more than six months had been prevented from donating by the FDA, until a change effective July 1.

The center has digitized some of the some of the registration process in an effort to shorten the on-site time involved in making a lifesaving donation.

“Texans can help out fellow Texans by giving blood and by hosting blood drives,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. “It’s what we’ve always done.”

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