SIKESTON - An early flu season, holidays, cold weather - all of these have combined to result in a critical shortage of blood in this region.
"It's the worst I've seen it in a long time and I've been here since '81," said Craig Welker, blood bank supervisor for Missouri Delta Medical Center. "Hospitals are trying to help each other out from Poplar Bluff to Cape to Dexter. You call the (Red Cross distribution) depot and they tell you, 'We don't have any.'"
Reports of an "absolutely depleted stock" have caused concern, Welker said. "Right now I hear we have none on our shelves - and that's scary when I hear that from the depot."
"We had a bit of a crunch last week," confirmed Dr. Donald Cento, director of the hospital's blood bank. "There was a critical shortage of some types of blood. Type A and type O blood were in short supply - we had a hard time getting it but we were able to overcome that."
Unable to restock MDMC from the American Red Cross' local stocking distribution depot in Cape Girardeau, the hospital resupplied from the regional processing and distribution hub in St. Louis.
"As we speak today, it's fine," Welker said regarding MDMC's blood bank status. "Regionally it's still very low."
He added: "This hospital has never had to cancel any surgeries or ship a patient due to a blood shortage as of yet."
In an effort to replenish their dwindling supply, however, American Red Cross officials are extending an appeal for blood to the entire region. Several community blood drives are being held to provide donors with convenient opportunities and eligible donors are strongly urged to give. A mobile unit will be at the Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores from 1-6 p.m. Thursday, 3-8 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday as part of the Red Cross' efforts to resupply. A bloodmobile will also be at the First Baptist Church in Charleston from noon until 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"We've taken several strong steps to avert this emergency appeal," said Christine Bales, CEO of the American Red Cross Missouri-Illinois Blood Services Region. "However, when the blood supply becomes so severely affected by the flu and other contributing factors, we have no choice but to alert the entire region. Patients are counting on us to supply them with the blood they need to survive, and we will do everything we can to support them. This will take immediate action from the media, the community and eligible donors. I cannot stress enough that the time to donate is right now."
But sometimes donating isn't possible and supplies see the impact.
"People are sick. You can't donate if you don't feel like it," Welker said. "Also, if you're sick the Red Cross won't take you because you don't meet the criteria."
Welker said that around the holidays, donations typically drop off even without a flu going around. "People have a lot on their minds besides donating blood," he said.
This is also the time of the year blood banks experience pressure from the demand side, as well.
"As a general rule, in the months of December and January people require a lot of blood," Welker said. "Those two months are high-volume months at Missouri Delta."
Having an adequate blood supply available "is extremely important if you are the one needing the blood," said Dr. Brad Angelos, an emergency room physician at MDMC.
The emergency room isn't place you are most likely to need it, however.
"Everybody probably thinks from TV that we use lots and lots of blood in the ER, but no, we don't," Angelos said. "Most of the time they can wait for cross matching and by that time they're in surgery or intensive care."
Emergency room personnel use blood "mostly when you have gunshot wounds, stab wounds, terrible accidents, amputations," according to Angelos. "I bet in a week in surgery, they use more than we use a year."
The surgeries are usually not expected, otherwise the patient can donate their own blood in advance.
Angelos said internal medicine units also use more units than the emergency rooms "mostly for gastrointestinal bleeding."
"You can help four individuals off a unit of blood," Welker said. "Not only is there red blood cells there, there's what they call fresh frozen plasma, platelets and other components."
"If you're feeling up to snuff, go donate," he continued, "because you're going to help someone out."
"Everybody should be encouraged to give blood no matter what their blood type is," Cento said.
"The bottom line continues to be that there simply is not enough blood," Bale said. "Physicians in our region realize the impact of a low blood supply and we are working closely with them to help supply the blood needed for their patients. But we cannot do this alone. Eligible donors are needed right away."
To schedule a blood donation appointment, call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or log on to www.americanredcrossblood for more information. Organizations that would like to sponsor blood drives can call 1-877-873-5510.