A year after Sept. 11, blood banks run dry

PBy Jamay Liu
Brown Daily Herald
Brown University

pROVIDENCE, R.I. (U-WIRE) – A year after the rush to donate blood following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, blood reserves are at a critical low, according to the National Blood Data Resource Center.

Though blood banks witnessed the “largest turnout in first-time donors in modern history” after Sept. 11, a year later, only a few – less than eight percent – of those first-time donors have returned, said Stephanie Millian, a representative for the New England American Red Cross.

According to the National Blood Data Resource Center, blood donation levels returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels by the end of December, and 2002 did not witness an increase in blood supply, despite a rise in demand.

The Rhode Island Blood Center, the sole blood collection agency in the state with four sites, holds four to six drives a day. But it was not able to meet its goal of 280 pints a day this summer, said Peter Hanney of the Rhode Island Blood Center, who manages the Brown Drive.

“We are riding the wave from Sept. 11,” he said. “After the news came out of the Red Cross throwing away blood, every blood center across the nation was hurt.”

This current blood shortage may be partly due to media coverage of a surplus in blood after Sept. 11, said Marian Sullivan, director of research at the National Blood Data Resource Center.

The American Red Cross reportedly collected so much blood in 2001 that unused units had to be thrown away. Blood centers across the nation tried to avoid surpluses by placing caps on collections, and many donors were turned away from blood drives.

The Rhode Island Blood Center, which sent 110 units of red blood cells to New York, was one of the first blood centers to donate after the attacks, said Frank Prosnitz, manager of community development at RIBC. The center decided Sept. 13 to place a cap on all blood drives in order to prevent a surplus.

“After Sept. 11, a lot of people saw donating blood as the only way they could help,” Sullivan said. “But the reality is, not much blood was needed — as we all know, most of the victims died. A little was needed — but not that much.”

The amount of blood collected in 2001 exceeded the amount collected in 2000 by approximately 1 million units. Twenty-six percent of the total amount of blood collected was concentrated in the 10-week period following Sept. 11, according to NBDRC data. Because each unit of blood has a shelf life of 42 days unless it is frozen, some of the blood collected after the terrorist attacks expired before it could be used, Sullivan said.

“It is important to know that it was the blood collected before Sept. 11 that was used for the victims of the attacks,” Prosnitz said. “It was those who understood the importance of donating blood prior to Sept. 11 who are the real heroes for the victims.”

However, Prosnitz said, “While Sept. 11 was an enormous tragedy, there are tragedies every single day,” and the blood collected after the attacks helped victims of all kinds of tragedies.

Sullivan speculated that there are other factors contributing to the current blood shortage.

The shortage may be due to a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in the demand for blood each year, caused by a shift in the age structure toward older age groups as people live longer and a large portion of the population is in the older age group, as well as an increase in medical procedures that require blood, Sullivan said.

She added that the summer season is always a low time for blood donations because the high schools and colleges, which are big contributors, are out of session.

Yielding 1,000 to 1,200 pints per year, Brown University is Rhode Island’s largest contributor of blood, Hanney said.