As Roger Jefferson was guided to a chair inside of the Shepeard Community Blood Center in Augusta he was encouraged to relax.
The 44-year-old Army veteran from North Augusta was no stranger to the center or its blood donation process and showed a little disappointment when he was denied a platelet donation. It would have been his first time donating the tiny blood cells that are used to help cancer patients.
To make up for that, he decided to give another whole blood donation, which has added importance given that there’s a shortage of blood donors.
“I’ve been donating since I was in the military,” the O-positive blood donor said. “One of my relatives needed a blood transfusion (about two years ago) and people gave blood to help so I decided to continue to give blood to help others.”
Donor base for the Shepeard Community Blood Center at 1533 Wrightsboro Road in Augusta was 21,650 in 2017, with 6,000 donating two or more times in a given year.
The number of active donors was much higher in 2016, Kevin Belanger, CEO and president of the nonprofit center, said. The year brought 22,2091 active donors, 1,783 of which had O-negative blood types and donated at least once in the 24-month time-span.
He said the decline is a growing concern, especially for those with O-negative blood. Within the last year the nonprofit put out an urgent call for O Negative blood donations. A sign reiterating the need for O-negative blood donors sits atop the front desk in the center’s reception area today.
“Throughout the year we have peaks and valleys where we go into a dip where we need O-negative donors,” Belanger said Tuesday. “The CSRA is so blessed to have a children’s hospital, level one trauma center and a supporting community blood center in the center of the community. With both hospital assets a requirement for O-negative blood is greater because the babies and trauma victims might require it no matter what blood type they are.”
The shortage is also a concern for the American Red Cross. The Augusta area chapter has not reported any shortages of O-negative blood but recent natural disasters have created a need nationwide, Executive Director Susan Everitt said.
“The American Red Cross has an urgent need for blood and platelet donors of all blood types to help address a nationwide winter blood donation shortage,” she said. “Severe weather across the country has forced more than 150 blood drive cancellations already this year causing thousands of donations to go uncollected.”
Belanger said the decline is due primarily to three things: restrictive donor standards, a lack of interest, specifically among millennials who may not realize the importance of giving blood donations, and an aging population.
Until recently the Food and Drug Administration required male and female blood donors to have a minimum hemoglobin of 12.5 grams per deciliter or hematocrit of 38 percent. The requirement was amended in May 2016 to include 13 grams per deciliter or hematocrit or 39 percent for males while the minimum of 12.5 grams, 38 percent, remains the same for females.
“That is just plain statistical population and only 6.6 percent of the population are O Negative,” Belanger said. “So it means a decrease in O-negative blood, in addition to us deferring our donors due to travel and hemoglobin requirements.”
Within the last year the center imported 900 additional units of blood cells, from its network, to combat blood shortages within area hospitals.
News of the shortage was a bit disheartening to John Felak, 60, of North Augusta, who has been donating at the center for more than 20 years.
“It’s a nice thing to do,” he said. “It’s easy for me and I think it’s worthwhile thing. There’s always a need for it.”
Goals for the center in the upcoming year is to be on the “giving end” of the issue.
“We have the population to support the need and in 2018 we need to collect about 1,500 additional units of whole blood and 200 additional apheresis platelets,” Balanger said.