Blood donations low due to flu, weather

1:04 PM, Mar 18, 2013   |    comments
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Blood supplies are low due to the flu outbreak, winter vacations and icy weather.

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- There are a lot of things we need cross off our to do list when we have the flu -- and donating blood is one of them.

Unfortunately, that's a little concerning for pediatric cancer patients who can use up to five pints of blood a week during their chemotherapy treatments.

"One of the side effects is suppression of the bone marrow so our children are very dependent on blood transfusions and platelets and other blood products," says Dr. James Fahner, the head of Helen DeVos Children's Hospital oncology department.

Some of those patients have additional anti-bodies in their blood, making the perfect match a little harder to find.

"Not only do we have to make sure that they are very carefully matched and compatible we see how they respond to specific blood products," says Dr. Fahner.  "Often there are specific donors who are a better match, a stronger match to give the children a stronger response to their transfusion."

Dr. Fahner and his team keep a close eye on the blood supply especially when there is a dip in donations like we're seeing now.

"It is a time frame that we are watching supply and demand very closely," says Fahner.  "Our kids need a lot of blood products and very specialized blood products and that means that we need to keep a special eye on the supply for that population."

There's not just one reason for the decline but three.  You could call it the perfect storm -- between holiday vacations, a severe flu season and now hazardous winter weather.

"We had every high school blood drive in the state cancel and then we're dealing with the flu season and there is high absenteeism at all these schools, churches, and businesses where we do blood drives," says Jim Childress with Michigan Blood in Grand Rapids.   "The donors we count on just aren't as plentiful in these locations."

Childress is quick to add that it's not a state of emergency, but blood supplies are getting low.

"We'd like people to know it's a little skinnier than normal and we'd like them to come out," Childress says.

If you've never donated, now is the time.  Or, if you donate often -- and have not donated in the last 90 days -- think about giving one more time.  After all, each pint of blood can save three lives and give cancer patients a chance at having a long healthy life.

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