Icy weather cuts down on blood donations

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 12:13 a.m.

Winter's recent icy grip on the Pittsburgh region even put a chill on blood donations.

According to Central Blood Bank, which supplies blood to 45 hospitals throughout the region and parts of West Virginia and Ohio, more than 600 donors cancelled or missed appointments the past two weeks.

As a result, the blood inventory in January was depleted by 1,000 units.

Executive director Michele Tysarczyk said the decrease led the blood bank to put out an urgent plea for donors to visit one of its 25 donation centers.

“I've been through many harsh winters and bad weather, but the problem for this one is, this has been over the course of two weeks, and I just heard that we are getting more cold weather in the next two weeks,” said Tysarczyk, who has worked at the agency for 26 years.

She said it is not unusual for blood supplies to drop around Thanksgiving and Christmas but rebound in January.

“We are usually out of it by mid-month,” she said. “But because of the weather, we were nowhere near where we need to be by the 15th of the month. We have had no chance to recover.”

Aside from keeping individual donors away from donation centers, Tysarczyk said the weather caused cancellations or shortened blood drives at high schools and colleges due to school closings and delayed starts.

While donors of all types are needed, those with blood types O positive and O negative are in particular demand.

O positive inventory levels are at less than half of normal levels and at two-thirds of minimum levels. Inventories of O negative are even lower, at only 37 percent of minimum level.

“But we're not turning away anybody,” Tysarczyk, said.

The American Red Cross, which runs a separate blood program in Western Pennsylvania that services hospitals such as Excela Westmoreland in Greensburg, also is feeling the polar blast's effects.

“We are having an urgent need,” said Marianne Spampinato, spokeswoman for the Red Cross's Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region. “It is an urgent need to get people in the door. That's not going to happen overnight.”

The region covers 26 counties in South Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky.

She said, since the beginning of January, more than 600 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled nationally. Those drives had a collective goal of 20,000 donations, “so that's a significant loss,” Spampinato said.

The Red Cross needs to collect about 15,000 units each day to serve its 2,700 hospitals and transfusion centers nationwide. In Pennsylvania, eight drives were canceled resulting in a loss of 220 donations, she said.

Spampinato said blood is being delivered to hospitals as soon as it is received and processed from donors. All blood types are needed, but particularly needs O negative and O positive, A negative and B negative, she said.

Despite the declining supplies, hospitals in the region have not felt any effects, usually in the form of cancelled or postponed elective surgical procedures.

“We don't have a shortage here,” said Linda Dalak, spokeswoman for Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison. “We may not be transfusing as much as other places, but we don't have a shortage here.”

Wendy Zellner, spokeswoman for the UPMC Health System, said “Despite the fact that there is a national blood shortage, UPMC has adequate supplies to meet the needs of our patients at this time. We strongly support our long-standing partner, the Central Blood Bank, and encourage donors to give blood at this critical time.”

“We do not have any surgeries postponed,” said Stephanie Waite, spokeswoman for the Allegheny Health System. “Right now we are not taking any steps related to a shortage.”

Patti Schildkamp, supervisor of Excela Health's Blood Bank, said the hospital system has experienced small cuts in the blood it receives from the Red Cross, but not dramatic reductions. In addition to Greensburg, Excela operates hospitals in Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant.

“We'll see the effects in maybe a week from the winter weather that we had,” Schildkamp said. “I am fearful, because nobody was probably able to get to those blood drives last week during the (bad) weather.”

Tom Yerace and Kari Andren arestaff writers for Trib Total Media.

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