SIKESTON -- With the blood supply at a critically low level, eligible donors are being asked by the Red Cross to make giving blood part of their summer plans.
Currently, the American Red Cross Missouri-Illinois Blood Services Region's supply stands at just over one day.
"The optimal supply is five to seven days, so we are far below that optimal supply," said Shannon Thompson, donor recruitment account manager for Southeast Missouri.
Another daunting problem, Thompson pointed out, is that it isn't just the Missouri-Illinois region, but the entire nation that is experiencing the shortage. "We can't really call on any other regions because they don't have supply to give to us, either," she said.
Ideally, hospitals like to have a supply of blood waiting on the shelf. Once that supply is depleted, in times like these, they will receive extra blood on a per-crisis-only basis, Thompson said. And with holiday weekends, car accidents in which victims need blood are all the more likely.
Anywhere from four to 40 units of red blood cells are typically needed to treat those who have been in auto accidents. But although this use for blood may be most on the mind at this time of year, the donated blood is used for other operations, Thompson pointed out.
Premature newborns need from one to four units; an adult having open heart surgery will need two to six units in addition to platelets; and someone getting a liver transplant will need six to 20 units. "Modern medicine has made a lot of these lifesaving surgeries possible," Thompson said. "But without a safe and plentiful blood supply, no one would be able to benefit from those advances."
Thompson said that the supply of O-negative blood -- a universal type that only 7 percent of the population has but anyone can receive -- is now at less than a one-day supply. And O-negative, the type of a majority of the population, is at a less than two-day supply across the nation.
Summertime is usually marked by a low supply of blood. "People's schedules change," Thompson said. With children being out of school, vacations and sports leagues, evenings are usually consumed with other activities.
Also, high schools and colleges, whose drives comprise 20 percent of the blood supply, are on break. "When those schools aren't in session, then we do see a decline," Thompson said.
After blood is donated, it takes three to five days for it to be ready for a transfusion, Thompson noted. "It has to be sent, processed and tested," she said, adding that 12 tests are done on the blood. "It's a medicine and we want to make sure its the safest medicine possible."
Donors this July will have an added incentive to helping save a life. Any potential donors will receive a limited edition St. Louis Cardinals T-shirt. The shirt features a sketch of the new stadium by John Pils, a St. Louis artist who has given sole rights to the American Red Cross, on the front and a Cardinals and Red Cross logo on the back.
"I think it's going to be huge," Thompson said, adding that last year's Cardinals promotion also attracted quite a few donors.
Several companies and businesses help the Red Cross during the summer and winter, Thompson said. For instance, Missouri Delta Medical Center sponsors four blood drives a year, and the Missouri Department of Transportation in Sikeston sponsors two. "We've found that if we make it convenient for people, by having blood drives at their places of business or worship, then they're more likely to donate," Thompson said.
The City of Sikeston also holds an annual blood drive. This year's is scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. July 19 at Hunter Memorial Presbyterian Church.
To learn about upcoming blood drives in their area, people can call 1-800-
GIVE-LIFE or log on to the Web site www.americanredcrossblood.org.