Blood supply already feeling the heat

Matthew Strother

June 26, 2014

Blood donations are dropping in the region and the area blood supplier is warning that it could face serious shortages if additional donors don’t step forward.

“Shortages are something we battle every summer, and we’re already facing a shortage of O negative blood that’s so important for emergencies,” said J.B. Bowles, vice president of operations for LifeSouth, which is the sole blood supplier for West Georgia Health. “For those people who donate occasionally, now is the time we need you most. For those who have never donated, now is the time to try.”

Ellen Eisenbarth, West Georgia Health blood bank supervisor, said type O negative blood is essential to have on hand for emergency calls because it can be given to patients of any blood type.

“Patients presenting to the Emergency Room without a (documented) blood type will receive O negative blood,” Eisenbarth said.

West Georgia Health also uses donated blood for surgical patients, oncology patients and those with medical conditions requiring blood, she added.

The hospital switched to LifeSouth as its blood supplier in October 2012 after a thorough vetting process, Eisenbarth said. Part of the decision was because the transport of blood products from LifeSouth in Opelika, Alabama, was quicker than the previous Red Cross supplies from Atlanta.

“Minutes are critical when a patient needs blood,” Eisenbarth noted.

Another reason she noted is LifeSouth’s distribution model, which was praised in a recent American Association of Blood Banks journal.

“This distribution model is consignment-based and allows the hospital to send blood units back to the main distribution center when units are 10 days out from expiration,” Eisenbarth said. “This eliminates waste and distributes the type of units needed, where they are needed.”

The hospital has so far been kept well-supplied by LifeSouth, she said, even during summer months when LifeSouth’s donations are waning. However, Bowles said LifeSouth’s donations have already started to drop, and July 7 could be when supplies go from bad to worse. Part of the challenge is that so few people – only about 5 percent of Americans – donate regularly.

“We always see an even steeper drop in donations around the Fourth because people are busy celebrating, but the accidents that come with the holiday travel can spike the demand for blood,” Bowles said. “The need climbs even higher when surgeries that were postponed during the holiday all quickly ramp up Monday.”

Eisenbarth encouraged area residents to donate, because one donation goes a long way.

“When blood is donated, three people are helped,” she said. “The unit of blood is divided into its three parts: red cells which carry oxygen, platelets which are needed for clotting and plasma which is used for coagulation. For one hour of your time, three people will be helped. There is no artificial blood product available, there are only people with hearts big enough to give their time and their blood to save others.”

LifeSouth regularly holds blood drives in the Troup and Harris counties, along with Alabama counties Randolph, Chambers and Lee. Listings for area drives may be seen in LaGrange Daily News’ “You can help” listings each Tuesday on page 3.

The next LifeSouth blood drive sponsored at West Georgia Health will be held July 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Enoch Callaway Cancer Clinic Auditorium. All donors are welcome, but must be at least 17 years old – or 16 with a parent’s permission – have a picture ID, weigh a minimum of 110 pounds, be in good health and suggested to eat before donating.

For more information on donation call LifeSouth toll-free at 888-795-2707 or visit