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Blood Shortage At Critical Mass

July 11, 2002

Blood supplies throughout the Inova Health System are critically low with less than a day's supply on hand.

That is the alert issued by Inova Blood Donor Services (IBDS) which furnishes blood to 11 hospitals throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area. "Because of the extremely critical shortage in our area, we are having a very difficult time filling all the hospital orders," said Linda Wilson, donor center recruitment manager.

"It is so important to have blood waiting for a patient who needs it," she added. "Many patients don't have days to wait for blood. We, as a community, need to make sure blood is available when it is needed."

Donating blood takes about an hour. Once a donation is made, it can take up to 72 hours for that donation to go through the required testing before it can be given to a patient, according to IBDS.

American Blood Centers estimates that patients need blood every three seconds throughout the United States. If everyone who is eligible to donate blood would make a donation three times a year, there would be no shortage, IBDS pointed out.

It is the designation "eligible" that has exacerbated the shortage for the Washington area. Beginning May 31, the eligible donors for this area was significantly reduced due to a restriction by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They issued a prohibition against anyone who has traveled or resided in Europe or the United Kingdom for an extended period beginning in 1980 from donating blood. The restriction was triggered by the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in those areas.

AT THE TIME OF THE pronouncement, Dr. Jeanne Lumadue, IBDS Medical Director, said, "This is particularly critical to this area with our large military population as well as government personnel that travel throughout the world on a regular basis. It will hurt us significantly."

That prediction, coupled with the fact that summer is usually a low time of the year for such donations due to vacations and people traveling, is now coming true. More than 200 donors are needed each day to meet area demands, according to Kristin Gross, IBDS Assistant Director of Marketing.

"No particular hospital is experiencing more shortage than any other within the Inova System," Kathleen Thomas, Media Relation Manager, Inova Alexandria Hospital, explained. "When ever someone donates blood it goes to a central pool to be distributed to the various hospitals in our system on a demand basis."

"We need all types. But, as usual the most sought after is O negative because it's viewed as a universal type," Thomas explained. It is O negative that is part of the inventory on board emergency vehicles at all times.

Donors are urged to call 1-866-256-6372 to schedule an appointment or check the IBDS web site at www.inova.org/donateblood. Hours of operation at donor stations in Alexandria and Mount Vernon hospitals are as follows:

* Inova Alexandria Hospital: Monday and Wednesday - Noon to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday - 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

* Inova Mount Vernon Hospital: Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.