HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The National American Red Cross is asking for blood and platelet donors to roll up their sleeves after several factors led to a 25% drop in donations last month.
"A 30,000 donation shortage and that was after we had a 50,000 donation shortage earlier in the summer," said Jonathan McNamara, Communications Director for the Red Cross of Virginia. He added statewide donations dropped 20% during the same time period. "We saw multiple weather events across the country, which led to hundreds of blood drives being canceled in those communities. We had record heat in parts of the country, which led to less signups -- on top of vacations and colleges and high schools being out of session, which is a tremendous source of blood to the American Red Cross."
McNamara spoke to CBS 6 from the Henrico facility, where the storage fridge where blood bags were kept before delivery were more empty than full.
"The Red Cross always tries to have a five-day supply of those key blood types on hand, to make sure that patients who come in -- trauma situations, patients who are dealing with cancer treatment -- have the blood that they need on the shelves. When we don't, that can lead to situations where doctors and nurses have to make challenging healthcare decisions."
One New Kent County family knows firsthand the impact of the blood shortage, as Kristen's mom, Jackie (the family asked their last name not to be used), has been in the hospital for over a month dealing with complications from a kidney transplant. As part of the treatment, Kristen said her mother has needed several blood transfusions, but they have been hard to come by.
"Because she has a very rare blood type -- we're told less than 1% of the population and a blood type that is specifically only present in African Americans -- it's been a real challenge to get her the blood that she's needed," said Kristen. She added she and her brother, neither who were a match for their mother, have been calling friends and family to ask.
"Asked some of my frat brothers that were O-negative, to please try to donate for my mom," said her son, Troy. "But, I also encouraged others just to donate as well. Because as African Americans, there is just a shortage of blood available. Not only O-negative, but just that can be used, in case other family members get into situations where they need blood as well."
McNamara said the Red Cross is offering several incentives through September 18 in hopes of bringing in new donors.
"We're so grateful to donors who have answered the call in the past. But, we always need new donors in our system, particularly donors from diverse communities," said McNamara. "We're at our best at the Red Cross when our blood supply reflects the communities which we serve. And that's critically important as we go through Sickle Cell Awareness Month. So, if you're a Black blood donor in the community, this is a great way that you can help the sickle cell community because many sickle cell patients can only receive blood from other Black donors. And that's why this is so important."
One longtime donor at the Red Cross' Henrico location Wednesday, knows first-hand the demand for rare blood types because he has been trying to help fill it since 1982.
"Because of my blood type, they asked me if I would start donating on a regular basis. And so, I was doing whole blood at the time, and then after about a year, they asked me if I could start doing platelets because they were more needed at the time," said Larry Brooks. "And so, I've just been doing that ever since. I come in about every two weeks and sit here and watch movies and eat cookies and drink orange juice."
Brooks said he guesses he has probably donated over 500 times at this point.
"Even though I've never met anybody, I know I'm helping a lot of people to have another day. And that just kind of makes me feel good that I can able -- that I can do something like that. And, you know, more people should do it if they can," added Brooks. "You're helping someone else that you may not know that really, really needs it. And this is the only way that they can get it."
It's a message echoed by Kristen and Troy on behalf of their mother. Kristen said her mother has amazed her with how she has handled this ordeal and the family is rallying to get her through.
"She's got a lot of life left to live, a lot of things to experience with us. I'm getting married next year, I'm looking forward to her being part of that," said Kristen. "It's just really important, as many people who can to donate blood to literally save lives."
You can find information on how to donate to the Red Cross here.
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