The best time to donate blood for a disaster is before it happens
In the aftermath of mass casualty events such as shootings, blood centres can be a first line of defense against fatalities. These facilities have trained staff who collect blood from donors all year, clean it and process it before distributing it to local hospitals and first responders upon request. They might also circulate supplies throughout the country in an effort to keep depleted centers stocked up during storms or other emergencies. They need to have a ready supply of donations in case of an emergency, and a steady flow afterward to replenish their stockpiles.
Bloodbanks can be very important in trauma cases. In most metropolitan areas, it takes about 30 minutes from the time of the 911 call to get an injured individual to a hospital, says CJ Winckler, an emergency medicine doctor at UT Health San Antonio and deputy medical director for the San Antonio Fire Department. The patient may lose several pints of their blood within that time. On average, adults have 1.5 to 2 gallons ). of the stuff HTML1. If the patient’s oxygen supply is too low, they can go into hemorhagic shock ..
EMS workers have a few ways to maintain a person’s vitals — but ultimately, the patient requires more blood. Winckler states that if they are bleeding, they should be given a transfusion as soon possible. The ambulance may already have a cooler of donated blood so the medics can start the process right away. Depending on the severity of the injury and their size, the individual may need dozens of additional units (aka pints) once they reach the ER or trauma ward.
In short, hospitals and first responders require immediate access to blood when there is a crisis. Adrienne Mendoza is the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s COO. She says that donating regularly is the best way to make sure they are prepared for any emergency. When a gunman killed 21 teachers and students at Robb Elementary School on May 24 and injured many others, her team had 15 units of whole blood–as opposed to blood broken down into plasma, platelets, and cells–ready to fly to the scene. She explains that she received a call Tuesday afternoon about something happening in Uvalde. “An air ambulance arrived to pick up the units. Then we sent 10 units of O-negative red blood cells for pediatric patients at Uvalde Memorial Hospital.”
These resources were readily available because of the regular blood donors in the region. (Mendoza’s center offers a program called Brothers in Arms which encourages Texans and others to donate O-positive blood to be stored in ambulances, fire trucks or helicopters. Once they had exhausted their supply of units, South Texas Blood & Tissue staff had to turn to the national and local networks.
” We’ve had a record amount of [walk-in] donors this week,” Mendoza said. “During a good day in the pandemic, we would see about 400 people.” On May 25, the center had 1,100 donors lined up at its eight locations around San Antonio.
Mendoza’s team is also part of Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, a group that was founded in late 2021 in response to the US donor shortage–and the country’s uptick in gun violence. The corps includes blood centers in 37 states and allows supplies to be quickly diverted to places in crisis. O-negative units were flown over to South Texas Blood & Tissue’s Central Office by organizations from Florida, Oklahoma, and other West Coast states following the Uvalde shooting. From there, they were shared with children undergoing surgery at two area trauma centers.
Another reason that the region’s blood donor network mobilized so quickly was because it had been through a similar situation before. In 2017, a mass shooter killed 26 and wounded 22 churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas, just northeast of San Antonio. Winckler said, “We built and planned to have another large casualty event, but unfortunately, it happened.” He was referring to the tight link between first responders, hospitals and blood centers in South Texas.
While Uvalde will continue to have a high demand for blood donors, everyone across the country should know that they can also help. Even if the blood doesn’t reach the shooting survivors directly, it will undoubtedly be used to heal sick people such as premature babies and sickle cells anemia patients. Mendoza states, “Everywhere a donor donates, that blood’s going find a taker.” Although trauma cases can take up a lot and can quickly deplete local supplies, they only account for 3% of the need. Many people require blood every day. It is life-saving and an emergency
She points out that if every eligible American donated blood four times a year, the country “would never see a shortage.” But at the moment, only 3 percent of the population is giving at a blood center, mobile unit, or drive annually.
Susan Forbes is a senior vice president of OneBlood which operates a network in Florida that offers similar advice. She says, “It’s so crucial that people be proactive about becoming a donor.” “We have been through two mass tragedies in six years here, the Pulse shootings and the Parkland shootings. The blood supply on the shelves was a key factor in the rescue of the victims. Don’t wait until tragedy strikes. It’s the person who gave yesterday that will make an impact .”
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