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There's a severe blood shortage right now, public health officials warn

Posted at 10:36 AM, Dec 27, 2019

CHICAGO — Public health experts are concerned that a shortage in blood supplies could get worse. Severe weather canceled blood drives and the holidays are causing supply levels to drop to critical levels.

For Medline employee Rhonda Hinks, giving blood is a celebration.

Earlier this month, she made her 100th blood donation.

“It doesn't take too long to give the blood. And it always feels better to donate the blood than to need the blood,” Hinks says.

But regular donors like Hinks are a rarity.

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, but only 3% of the population donates.

“This time of year, it's really difficult because people are busy with holiday plans and they don't think about donating blood,” explains Eva Quinley, the regional director for blood collection service Vitalant.

Hinks and her coworkers gave 100 units of blood collectively in just six hours — enough to save some 300 lives.

Blood drives like the one at Medline are crucial to replenishing the nation’s blood supply. It’s even more important at this moment, public health officials say, when there is a critical shortage.

Right now, the Red Cross says it has less than a five-day supply of blood on hand.

“The blood is just going out faster than it's coming in at this point,” says Holly Baker of the American Red Cross.

Shortages are being reported across the country, particularly of type O blood, also known as the "universal donor."

“We need to collect 13,000 units of blood every single day to meet the needs across the whole country,” Baker says.

In extraordinary cases like that of Sarah McPharlin — who needed a new heart, liver and kidney last year — the rare triple-organ transplant required a large quantity of blood.

“When you add all three, it makes a ton of blood. And I learned today that I got ten units of blood during my surgery, which is huge,” she says.

It was one reason her mother, Diane, became a regular blood donor and her family started their own blood drives.

“Sarah happened to see how much she needed at that time and we were just blown away,” Diane McPharlin says.

It’s a need for which every drop collected could mean the difference between life and death.