San Fernando Valley Sun: Sen. Alex Padilla Encourages Blood Donations in Response to National Donor Shortage

By Maria Luisa Torres

This winter season has brought a widespread rise in respiratory infections – especially COVID, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) and the flu – contributing to a significant decrease in blood donations, which have reached critical and historic lows.

“A lot of people have been down [with these viruses] and it seems like it’s taking a little bit longer to bounce back – and if you’re not well, you can’t donate,” said Elise Levine, executive director for the LA Region of the American Red Cross. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day alone, she said the Red Cross experienced a shortfall in blood donations of nearly 7,000 units.

To call attention to the nationwide shortage and motivate people to donate, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) rolled up his sleeve and donated blood at an American Red Cross center in Burbank on Jan. 12. He offered words of encouragement for those who feel reluctant to donate.

“If it’s been a while since you last gave blood, it’s time – we need you. And for people who have never given blood before, it’s actually a lot easier than you think,” Padilla told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. “If you don’t know your blood type, that should not keep you from donating blood. If you’re in generally good health, you’re able to give blood – and every drop counts.”

Padilla, who said he regularly donates blood a couple of times per year, said he decided to donate that day as a response to the current shortage, to do his part during National Blood Donor Month and because he was motivated by the legacy and “spirit of service” of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“Particularly [this] winter – when there’s high rates of flu, and we’re seeing COVID numbers go up, RSV cases go up – hospitals need blood,” he said. “If you’re ever in an accident and you need blood, you’re going to want people to have given blood. So now’s your opportunity to do your part.”

Levine said they would like to see an increase in blood donors from both the Latino and the African American communities, which tend to provide lower ratios of blood donations.

“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions that have been generationally passed down with no real facts behind them, but it makes some people hesitant to donate,” said Levine. Some myths include the belief that donating blood might make a person sick or cause them to gain weight.

“We want to show people that it really is safe – and it’s so helpful for the community,” she said. After people donate blood in their own towns or neighborhoods, the blood goes to the nearest blood processing center and, in most cases, it “comes right back to your community.”

Overall, blood donations have fallen 40 percent over the past 20 years. Historical contributing factors have included the pandemic and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changing some eligibility requirements, which lowered the number of 16 to 18 year olds who can donate.

Current challenges – in addition to the recent increase in winter illnesses and hospitalizations – include inclement weather and holiday travel and vacation schedules, explained Levine.

“We see dips [in blood donations] when there are major weather situations. You’re not going to go out in a blizzard [to donate blood],” she said. “And most people don’t think about going to donate blood when they’re vacationing.”

Given the current shortfall in donations, some hospitals and surgery centers may opt to delay elective or non-emergency surgeries to “take care of people in immediate crisis,” said Levine.

“Right now, blood donations are so important, because hospitals need to keep a supply of blood on hand,” she said. “If they don’t have enough blood in the storage, [it goes to] those who immediately need it. The need for blood is always, always there.”

Those interested in donating blood, can find an American Red Cross center or book an appointment by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767), visiting the website at www.RedCrossBlood.org or downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor app.

Read the full article here.

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