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Local Centers Are Trying To Offset A Major Blood Shortage In Texas

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Courtesy of Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center
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Blood centers throughout the country are sending blood to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, as centers there face a loss of inventory because of cancelled blood drives.

Kirby Winn, of the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, says his organization has sent 40 units of blood to try to offset a 3,000-unit loss at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center  in Texas. 

"I have to believe that the blood supply in Houston -- what was on the shelves and ready to use -- has been used or is being used now in the early part of the response to this disaster, and now it's time for centers around the country and Mississippi Valley to respond and backfill that supply."

The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is the third largest blood center in the country, according to its spokesman Joshua Buckley, serving over 100 healthcare facilities throughout the Gulf Coast region. 
Buckley says the center's current inventory will only last a few days longer.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it, it's about to be a critical situation here," he said. "Another issue is that platelets only have a five day shelf-life, so if we're not able to collect those, we're going to be out."

Buckley says his center needs at least 1,000 units of blood to be donated per day in order to adequately serve a 26-county region. The center has had to cancel blood drives for three days in a row as of Tuesday, resulting in a 3,000-unit loss.

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Credit Courtesy of Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center
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Blood from the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is delivered by UPS and FedEx in double- sometimes triple-sealed boxes.

The effort to send blood to Texas is organized by the AABB Inter-organizational Task Force on Domestic Disasters and Acts of Terrorism.

“We are asking all potential donors, both current and first-timers, to make a commitment to donate blood or platelets as soon as possible,” Dennis Todd, chair of the task force, said in a press release Sunday. 

Winn says his center is sending only surplus blood to Texas, prioritizing local needs first. He's encouraging Quad Citians to donate blood as soon as possible so that the center has additional inventory to send. 

But even if there's a significant increase in donations throughout the country, blood might not make it to the Gulf Coast Regional Center on time. Deliveries have been delayed due to flooding, according to Buckley.

The Gulf Coast Center is currently trying to secure a vehicle that can endure high flood waters to pick up blood from Dallas, where deliveries from local blood centers are being sent. 

While the need for blood hasn't necessarily increased because of the disaster, Winn says the loss of donations in its aftermath could affect cancer patients, people undergoing surgery, or anyone affected by unexpected trauma. 

"A blood transfusion that's needed cannot be delayed due to any sort of shortage. That's what we're all working to avoid." 

Winn says the need for blood is particularly crucial in Houston, Texas, home to one of the country's leading cancer centers. MD Anderson Cancer Center has had to close this week, cancelling appointments until Thursday the earliest.