Health

Blood banks are experiencing a blood shortage as hospitals face an increase in cases that call for transfusions.

Emergency surgeries, transplants and elective operations all require a robust blood supply. Dr. Christopher Jones, an abdominal transplant surgeon and the medical director of the Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center, part of UofL Health, said the number of transplants have gone up since the organ allocation system has gone national. There are now more transplants occurring around the country.

“I’ve not been this worried before,” Jones said. “In the past, we’ve had some times where it’s been low, but it was predicted and it was able to ride it through a little bit to make sure everything is okay, but this is scary.”

Jones said they’re telling some people who are waiting on organ transplants that they may have to bank blood for themselves and their operations. The transplant team wants to be honest with their patients about the current situation.

“We have to make sure we have enough in store before we do your operation in order to make sure that your operation is safe,” Jones said. “We kind of walk them through that and kind of talk them through that and our coordinators are very good with making sure that they understand everything.”

Patients in line to receive an organ sometimes have to wait years before one becomes available, even with improved sharing systems. Any additional wait time due to low blood bank supply could result in an organ going to a different patient. 

The minimum amount of blood also depends on the organ scheduled to be transplanted. Jones said a kidney transplant needs about two to four units of blood. A liver transplant needs anywhere from 20 to 25 units of blood.

The greatest needs right now, according to Jones, are O and B blood types and all types of platelets. Without more donations, surgeries may need to occur at other hospitals – something patients may not be able to do for health or financial reasons. The other transplant center is with the University of Kentucky in Lexington and in Bowling Green.

“At this point, there’s no rivalry between UofL and University of Kentucky, what we want to do is we want to make sure we take care of our patients and so if we can do that we’ll be better off,” Jones said.

The hospital can even reach out to other states for blood when they need it. UofL Health is having a blood drive on Tuesday at Rudd Heart and Lung Center from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Baptist Health Louisville, which is not a level one trauma center, is not feeling the impact of the blood shortage as much. Dr. Mahoney Cobb, medical director of transfusion medicine and blood at Baptist Health, said they have not had to cancel elective surgeries.

“But we have to be aware,” Cobb said. “We have blood management in place. If we see orders where we think we can conserve, I can make phone calls and do that sort of thing.”

Baptist Health uses transfusions for their regular surgeries and patients. The oncology group and the OBGYN group need blood for lots of different reasons. They get their blood supply from Kentucky Blood Center, which Cobb said has done a great job keeping up with them.

“We just need people to give freely, just freely of their blood and their time,” Cobb said.

In Louisville, some blood bank options are the Kentucky Blood Center and the American Red Cross.

Mandy Brajuha, the vice president of external relations at the Kentucky Blood Center, said the blood shortage has been going on since last summer, and it’s impacting groups across the country.

“What we’re hearing from our counterparts all over the country is the same things we’re facing, they’re facing,” Brajuha said. “Which makes it even more uncomfortable because you can’t reach out and ask a friend for help, we can’t find another blood center to help support your blood supply.”

Brajuha said they’ve transfused record amounts of blood every month this year. Additionally, she said people haven’t been donating blood as much as before the pandemic. Banks also haven’t been able to host blood drives in the same ways as before the pandemic.

The Kentucky Blood Center likes to keep a three-day supply of blood on the shelves. They need about 400 donors a day to meet that need. 

“It’s kind of hard to quantify it because you need lots of blood every day and other times not as much but it’s a full complement of what you have that helps doctors, hospitals,” Brajuha said.

The organization works with all the hospitals in Louisville, with contracts ranging from supplemental to full supply. They have blood centers in Louisville in Hillview and Middletown.

The American Red Cross also announced in a press release they were experiencing a national severe blood shortage. Tiffany Taylor, regional communications manager of American Red Cross River Valley Region, said the increase is depleting the local and national blood supply.

“We strive to keep at least a five-day supply of all blood types on hand at all times to meet the needs of patients every day and to be prepared for emergencies that will require a significant volume of donated blood products,” Taylor said. “But at this point, we are less than that five-day supply of all products and we definitely have a high need right now for type O and platelets.”

To maintain that minimum, Taylor said in Kentucky the American Red Cross needs to collect more than 250 units of blood everyday. To declare the end of the blood shortage, the Red Cross would look at their inventory and the needs of hospitals and decide if they were being met. Over the last three months, they’ve distributed 55,000 blood products more than expected to meet the needs of hospitals.

“We know that our hospitals have been responding to an atypically high number of traumas and emergency room visits,” Taylor said. “When they click in orders for blood supply, they don’t necessarily tell us who it’s for or what it’s for but we’re able to see that that need is rising.”