Blood donations rebound in Iowa City after summer shortage


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As the academic year kicks off, local and national blood centers are witnessing a normalization of their blood banks after weathering a summer shortage.

The American Red Cross experienced a 15-year low in its blood supply — with 50,000 fewer donations than expected in June — forcing officials to pass an “emergency appeal” that called for affiliated blood centers to literally beg for blood, said Bobbi Snethen, program manager of communication, at the Mid-America Blood Services Division.

Paula Dayton, donor recruitment coordinator at University of Iowa DeGowin Blood Center, said the slight shortage of donated blood the center experienced subsided in the months of July and August.

“The summer months are always difficult,” Dayton said. “We were pretty steady through this summer but overall, for the last couple of years, donations seem to be down.”

She also said despite the stabilization of DeGowin’s blood supply, the demand for blood is constant.

Trinity Howe, a UI freshman, was one of the only 49 people that donated a total of 41 pints of blood during a drive organized by UI DeGowin Blood Center and Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow at the IMU on Tuesday.

Howe — one of the last donators during the blood drive — said she had been donating blood throughout high school and wanted to continue the gesture.

“By just sitting there for about 20 minutes or so and giving a pint of your blood, you save three lives,” she said.

Snethen pointed to the weather as being an important factor that affects blood donations.

“Hurricane Isaac caused the cancellation of blood drives in the coastal area,” she said. “We put those places on the book because we know that we can support the hospitals in severe weather with donations from other parts of the country. Even in the winter months, blood drives are cancelled because people cannot travel to them.” 

Averaging about 500 whole blood donors and 200 platelet donors every month, DeGowin manages to collect half the amount of red blood cells and more than 90 percent of the platelets they need to supply to UI Hospitals and Clinics and UI Children’s Hospitals over the entire year.

While students make up 20 percent of the total blood donations for the American Red Cross, DeGowin attributes 30 to 40 percent of its donations to students in the months of September and October. However, the majority of donations in both cases come from middle-age people.

 “We are heavily on campus,” Dayton said. “… But on campus doesn’t necessarily mean only students. Faculty and staff are included in that. I would attribute most of today’s donation to students though.”

Only eight to 10 percent of the total population actually donates blood and Dayton said everyone in the blood center business would love to see the percentage rise.

“Many people don’t realize what the need is,” she said. “… Or they assume that some else is doing it so they don’t need to. Some people let fear keep them from donating. That is why we like to get out into the community to encourage new people to come in and try it. Once they try it, they realize that it is not as scary as they think.”

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