CLEVELAND — You’ve heard it so often by now, it may sound like white noise. But there really is an emergency blood shortage unfolding across the U.S., and it’s reaching crisis levels.
The American Red Cross told News 5 600 blood drives have been canceled across the country this year because of winter storms. Thirty-three were here in northern Ohio, leaving 1,150 donations uncollected. One area feeling the shortage most acutely right now is the sickle cell clinic at University Hospitals.
Sickle Cell Nurse Practitioner Consuela Albright explained how the disease affects a patient’s blood: “When our red blood cells don’t get adequate oxygen they change shape, they become rigid and sticky, they stick together in the blood vessels which can cause a sickle cell crisis, which is a very painful event.”
Sickle cell patients usually get blood transfusions every four to six weeks to manage the disease. When the shortage started, Lillian Cannady found out she’d be scaled back to partial transfusions.
“Lately I’ve been waking up in pain every day,” she told News 5.
Typically, Cannady says she can control her pain at home.
But under her modified treatment plan, where she gets fewer units of blood in her transfusions, she’s relying more on pain medications. Since the disease affects the blood, the pain can be anywhere.
“It can go from like, a stabbing pain to a throbbing pain,” she said. “Sometimes it can feel like it’s in your muscle, or it can be deep down in your bones.”
Albright laid out all the serious complications a patient can experience with sickle cell, including blood clots, stroke, organ failure, and acute chest syndrome, the leading cause of death for young adult patients with this disease.
“What happens is there’s basically a crisis in the chest and blood is not able to flow through the lungs as it normally would,” Albright said.
A patient with acute chest syndrome will need an emergency blood transfusion. Albright says there’s enough blood for those crisis moments, even if maintenance transfusions are being scaled back. But she worries about what the future holds.
“It’s scary to look at an almost barren refrigerator and know that, you know, at any time I could get a call that says, you know, we simply don’t have enough blood to be able to treat patients,” she said.
Albright and Cannady are encouraging anyone who can go ahead and donate. Albright says donations tend to spike after a story like this goes up, but then the number of donors dies back down. So, if you are interested in helping, consider making regular donations a part of your routine, not a one-time affair. And take a friend with you.
You can look for blood drives in the area by visiting the American Red Cross website here.
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