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This Thanksgiving, How About a Full Platelet?

Holiday means traditional slowdown in blood donations, say officials

THURSDAY, Nov. 22, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you were not among the crowds who lined up to donate blood after Sept. 11, blood center officials suggest you consider rolling up your sleeve right now. Blood donations historically slow down from Thanksgiving to Christmas

The American Red Cross says 250,000 to 400,000 extra pints of blood were donated in the month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Nevertheless, the officials say they'll need new donations to get through the next six weeks. Blood has a shelf life of about 42 days, and you can only give once every eight weeks. A November Washington Post report that some blood had to be discarded has officials worried whether people will consider donating.

"Thanksgiving through Christmas and after are indeed a slow period for blood donations, historically. To develop and maintain an ample inventory of liquid red blood cells, we need to collect 25,000 donations a day," says Jimmy Hendricks, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Rosslyn, Va.

"We do experience a decline from Thanksgiving to Christmas," says Nancy Eckert, president and CEO of LifeSouth Community Blood Centers in Gainesville, Fla. "While the first two weeks of December are pretty normal in collection, the week before Christmas, during Christmas and after Christmas are extremely difficult times."

"We see a decline from Christmas week of about 30 percent, and we only get that with a lot of effort," Eckert says. "The decline is not really known nationally, but I think we're pretty typical since we draw from 11 areas in Florida, Georgia and Alabama." Eckert is also on the board of directors of the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).

About 8 million Americans give about 13.9 million units of whole blood every year, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On any given day, about 32,000 units of red blood cells are needed for accident victims, surgery patients and those getting treated for leukemia, cancer or other diseases.

Red blood cells are not all that's used when blood is donated, Hendricks says. Blood centers also separate out platelets, which last about five days, and the liquid part of blood called plasma, which can be frozen and stored almost indefinitely. Overall, about 26.5 million units of various blood components are transfused each year, the AABB reports.

While lots of blood was collected after Sept. 11, the Red Cross denies any of it was discarded. "All donations collected after Sept. 11 that met our safety requirements were used to benefit patients," Hendricks says. "As you know, whole blood has three major components: plasma, platelets and red blood cells. At least one or more of these components from every donation was used."

Eckert says, "We feared that media reports over collecting and discarding would prevent people from donating. When it became obvious to us and to a lot of community blood centers that the blood was not required for the victims in New York City, we stopped collecting. We asked people to sign pledge cards to donate before the end of the year, knowing that Christmas would be difficult."

"We've had an 85 percent return on those pledges, which I think is very good, but I expect, as time goes on, that the return rate will go down," Eckert says.

The New York Blood Center also hopes negative reports won't discourage potential donors. "We need about 1,500 pints every day in the New York area to service about 200 hospitals, and we need to keep an appropriately sized inventory," says Linda Levi, the center's director of communication. "We always hope we won't experience a shortage of blood during the holiday season. I'd like to think giving blood is another part of the generous giving season."

"Many who donated after 9-11 were first-time donors, and we are certainly hopeful that their spirit of generous giving and community spirit will continue. What better gift could you give this holiday season?" Levi asks.

What To Do

For more on how and where to give blood, see the AABB.

For more information on blood donated after Sept. 11, see this American Red Cross statment.

Click here to read the Washington Post story about discarded blood donations.

Curious about blood? Here's a FAQ from the New York Blood Center.

SOURCES: Interviews with Jimmy Hendricks, spokesman, American Red Cross, Rosslyn, Va.; Nancy Eckert, president and CEO, LifeSouth Community Blood Center, Gainesville, Fla.; Linda Levi, director of communication, New York Blood Center; Nov. 13, 2001, American Red Cross statement
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