Red Cross encourages to give gift of life as it faces blood shortages during holiday

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As people get busier during the holidays, the Red Cross asks that people make time to donate, if possible

(WKBN) – Looking for some gift-giving inspiration this holiday season? Why not start with giving blood and plasma?

“The American Red Cross is concerned as we head into the holidays about the blood supply across the country,” said Christy Peters, of the American Red Cross. “We tend to see a decline between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and that’s really just because so many people get busy doing other things.”

Blood continues to be needed, and a pint can help up to three people. The Red Cross is also asking people that have recovered from the coronavirus to donate plasma, which can help up to four patients battling the virus.

“We need those donors to donate a product called convalescent plasma, which is something doctors are using right now to treat COVID-19 patients,” Peters said.

The Red Cross’s distribution of convalescent plasma between September and November was up 250%. A typical blood donation takes about an hour, with the actual donating part only taking about 10 minutes. A convalescent plasma donation takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half.

“It can be only done at our fixed donation centers, so we have three of those in the area. We have one in Parma, we have one in Cleveland, and we have one in Akron. It requires a special machine, so that’s why it has to be done at a donation center,” Peters said.

While the plasma donation machines can’t travel, blood donation machines can. To sign up to give, individuals can go online or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

“We also have a free Red Cross blood donor app,” Peters said. “It will let you know where blood drives are happening near you. It’ll also remind you when you’re eligible to give…it’s also really interesting you can follow your blood donation journey, so from the time you donate through the testing and the processing of your blood, to where it goes out to a hospital you can see that on the app.”

Those that donate blood must wait 56 days to give again. Normal plasma donors can donate every 28 days, and convalescent plasma donors can donate more frequently.

According to Peters, convalescent plasma donors can give every seven days for up to three months for a maximum of eight donations. After three months or eight donations, whichever comes first, they must wait six months to donate.

“We’re also testing all blood products so all donations that are given we’re testing for COVID-19 anitbodies,” Peters said.

This doesn’t mean they are testing for the virus. Peters said the virus is respiratory so it can’t be transfused via blood.

“We’re hoping that not only can we give people information about whether they were exposed to the virus, but if those antibody tests are positive, we’re hoping to identify more convalescent plasma donors, who can come and give and help meet that need,” she said.

If an individual has recovered from the coronavirus they can visit redcrossblood.org/plasma4covid to sign up to donate plasma.

The Red Cross also understand people have concerns about being out and about so they are taking necessary precautions to keep donors safe from the coronavirus.

“We began these back in March at the beginning of the pandemic and they continue now. We’re asking everyone who comes to give to wear a mask or face covering, we are taking temperatures before donors come into the drive, of course we’re asking that you feel healthy and well on the day of your donation, if you’re not feeling well, please don’t come and donate.”

They’re also social distancing wherever they can, which includes in the waiting area, keeping beds six-feet apart and keeping donors apart in the refreshment area. Organizers also wipe down all surfaces regularly and staff members continue to change gloves often.

“We’re doing everything we can, not only to protect those who come to give, but also our employees and volunteers, who are serving at the blood drives,” she said.

Peters mentioned that O- is the most-needed blood type because it’s universal to everyone, but all blood types are needed.

“Really, as we get into the holiday season and we think about giving gifts and how can we give back to people? This really is a simple way, it doesn’t cost anything,” Peters said. “You’ve helped someone who’s in the hospital right now and may be in the hospital through the holidays fighting a life-threatening illness like cancer, or who needs a transfusion because they have a chronic disease. That doesn’t stop for the holidays, and so we definitely continue to have that need.”

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