January is not just the beginning of a new year or an opportunity for a clean slate from the havoc wreaked by the pandemic of 2020. The start of 2021 also spotlights the health care and medical industry with the celebration of a live-saving holiday — National Blood Donor Month.
It comes as no surprise that there is a desperate need for blood donations in the Lowcountry, nationwide and worldwide. This massive blood shortage has been exacerbated by mass cancellations of donation functions over the last nine months due to the global health crisis that is COVID-19.
Since March, the Red Cross has had more than 300 blood drive cancellations in the Lowcountry, which represents more than 8,500 units of blood lost. This was largely affected by the closure of schools, businesses and community events, which make up about 80% of blood donations.
Locally, the Red Cross collects on average 30,000 units of blood annually and ensures patients at more than 30 hospitals statewide have access to blood products. Nationally, the daily number is nearly 13,000 units of blood and more than 2,600 platelet donations, in order to meet the needs of patients at about 2,500 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country.
This demand was satisfied in 2020, despite an unprecedented low number of blood drives. Approximately three times lower than their annual average, according to Lowcountry South Carolina Red Cross Executive Director Ashley Henyan.
“Blood is constantly needed,” she said. “At the Red Cross we look to generous donors to roll up their sleeves to give the gift of life in January and throughout the year.”
Henyan, who has been with the Red Cross for the past five years, is also a member of the Rotary Club of Daniel Island. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, from 3-8 p.m., the club will be sponsoring a Red Cross blood drive at 299 Seven Farms Drive. The whole process is estimated to take about 45 minutes to an hour from check-in to checkout. Afterward, donors will receive a snack of cookies, chips, orange juice or water.
But the real incentive is a free COVID-19 antibody test to all participants. Depending on the result, that blood can then be used for plasma therapy treatment for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 ailments.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in the blood drive and hopefully we’ll have a huge success with turnout because people in the Daniel Island community do like to give back and this is a good way during this time of need,” said Angela Drake, president of the DI Rotary Club.
On Jan. 4, The Church of the Holy Cross on Daniel Island also sponsored a blood drive. Every donor received a free COVID-19 antibody test and a long-sleeved T-shirt for participation.
“If you're looking for a simple and safe way to 'love your neighbor' during this pandemic, this is definitely a good one,” said Rev. Jonathan Bennett, associate rector and Daniel Island campus pastor at Holy Cross.
BLOOD SUPPLY URGENCY
The urgent need of the vital bodily fluid has to do with its exigency. Blood has a shelf-life of 42 days until it goes bad like spoiled milk in a refrigerator, Henyan explained.
Donors are eligible to give blood every 56 days or once every two months, according to Henyan. The two week overlap between the blood’s expiration and donor availability is a crucial gap the Red Cross hopes to close.
“You know that blood is going to someone who will not be alive unless they have it,” Henyan added. “Your gift really gave someone the ‘gift of life.’”
A sufficient blood supply is critical to treating cancer patients, children with health complications, and even mothers who have just given birth. When a donor gives a pint-size donation of blood, it helps save up to three lives.
“Blood is an essential service and collecting blood is an essential service,” Henyan said.
By giving blood to the Red Cross, a person’s donation circulates even further, across four more lines of service — disaster relief, military families, health and safety services, and international services.
Through the assistance of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security, and thanks to the help of its many volunteers, the Red Cross was able to get the word out to the public about the shortage of blood.
Across the state in 2020, the Red Cross provided more than $1 million in financial assistance through donations. Ninety cents of every $1 donated to the nonprofit, tax-exempt, charitable institution goes directly toward helping those in need. The remaining 10 cents of every dollar goes toward the organization’s overhead.
In 2019, Red Cross Lowcountry volunteers provided care, food and shelter to more than 1,300 people who faced emergency situations. In April 2020, more than 3,000 people were provided with safety and shelter during a stretch of devastating tornadoes.
Additionally, volunteers helped install more than 3,500 free smoke alarms throughout the Lowcountry in 2019. Since 2014, in South Carolina alone, those smoke alarms have saved approximately 80 lives and counting, according to Henyan.
REBOUNDING FROM A 'TRYING YEAR'
Henyan admitted that 2020 has been a “trying year” for the Red Cross. She referenced an “astronomical increase” to expenses nationwide in the form of an unbudgeted $150 million increase to general operating expenses for training, cleaning and new technological equipment due in part to COVID-19.
Responding to several major disasters — including wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms — also impacted the organization nationwide.
However, the Red Cross is persevering through COVID-19, putting in place a plan of action that calls for additional precautions and safety standards.
Following the CDC’s sanitation protocols and procedures for face mask and hand sanitation, Red Cross personnel also spread out beds, space out waiting areas and check temperatures beforehand. Keeping donors safe while they give blood is very important to everyone.
“I can tell you that right now donations are needed more than ever,” Henyan added. “… We need those that are in a position to step up and help to do so.”
To make an appointment, visit redcrossblood.org and enter your zip code. For the Jan. 12 blood drive on Daniel Island, sign up on the Rotary Club website at danielislandrotary.com or at rcblood.org/2WCihHr.
For more information about how to give blood or volunteer, visit redcross.org.