Someone needs blood every two seconds. There’s a constant demand but not a steady supply. With regular donors dwindling, the system is hemorrhaging.
It takes more than 30,000 units of blood a day to keep shelves stocked across the country.
Vitalant, formerly known as Lifesource, is one of the largest blood service providers in the country. On a recent quiet morning, just a few dozen bags of blood were trickling in. A steadier flow was expected in the afternoon.
“Right now, the stock we have on hand does meet our local base, barely. There’s not a lot of buffer there,” Holly Seese of Vitalant Illinois said. “This is unprecedented. The US has never seen this low of a donorship base. The days of huge stocks in hospitals and huge stocks here and all the way through the chain are pretty much past us.”
That’s because in the past 10 years there has been a 26 percent decline in donors. That comes out to 4.2 million fewer donations a year. At one point just this past summer, Vitalant had a one-day supply on hand. Factor in the age of most blood donors in the United States, a group largely made up of Baby Boomers and many are aging out due to their own health problems.
“The biggest thing that it takes to get us out of this issue right now is to bring in those younger donors,” Seese said. “The average blood donor is typically over the age of 40. Only 40 percent of donors are under the age of 40. The feedback we get from the younger generations is that they need almost a personal connection to someone that needs blood that would spark it. They often say, ‘Hey, no one asked me personally.’”
Now a company built on making personal connections is asking. Today, Facebook announced all users in the country now have access to the blood donations tool, a feature that launched earlier in just five cities. Since then, one million people have registered to be donors. 500 actually made appointments to give blood.
It may be a drop in the bucket, but blood banks across the country are holding out hope.
“Whether it’s 100, 200, 600 donations, those donations go to make a difference in patients that really need it. We only expect this to grow as we move forward,” Anthony Tornetta said American Red Cross said.
Here’s how it works. Users sign up by going to “blood donations” in the “About” section of their Facebook profile. When a center needs donations, they can send notifications and even specify the types of blood needed.
“We hope that everyone, no matter what age they are on Facebook, whether they are a millennial or baby boomer, that they sign up to get these alerts,” Seese said. “You will answer that call, look for either a mobile drive near you or look for a donation center near you.”
Right now, there’s also a critical shortage of platelets, the component that helps blood clot. Platelets last just five days on the shelf and are often used to treat trauma patients and those experiencing side effects of chemotherapy.
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