Because of the holidays, the recent bad weather and demands from the military, the American Red Cross needs blood and is asking Marylanders to help build up dwindling supplies.
It's not that there are more sick and injured people using blood faster than usual these days. The problem is, fewer healthy people are giving.
During Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year holidays, regular blood donors tend to be too preoccupied to give blood. When snow and freezing rain hit, as they did this week, businesses and schools close and scheduled Red Cross donor days get canceled.
And since the beginning of the year, the Department of Defense has been asking the 54 Red Cross centers around the country to donate a total of 1,000 units of blood a week as the Persian Gulf crisis worsens.
"The military isn't asking for a lot now, but we don't know where this [Operation Desert Shield] thing is going, so we're making plans to increase blood collections as much as necessary," said Dr. Paul M. Ness, director of blood services for the local Red Cross. "We may be opening larger [donor] sites like we did during the Amtrak crash in Chase [in 1986]. We obviously have to make plans to be prepared. We just can't wait."
During such emergencies, Dr. Ness said, the public responds to pleas from the Red Cross with gusto.
"There is always a reserve of people who are very willing to give if it's necessary," he said.
But what is needed now, Dr. Ness said, are more volunteers to give during normally scheduled visits to schools and businesses by bloodmobiles. The Red Cross had anticipated collecting 1,200 units of blood Monday, but because of the first snowstorm of the year, only 500 units were collected.
"In all the snow hoopla, nobody realizes that we really get shot down," Dr. Ness said. "In the best of times, we have enough blood to get us through two or three days, and a lot of it is perishable."
Diane L. Russell, who heads hospital services for the local Red Cross, said that before Christmas, the military was asking for 375 units of blood a week from donor centers nationwide. That request increased to 1,000 units a week Jan. 1.
"Right now we're sending blood to the military on a voluntary basis," Ms. Russell said. "But we were told that should any fighting result, we would be called on to send a certain percentage of our collections."
Where to call
To donate blood, call the American Red Cross in Baltimore a764-4619 or, in Washington, at (202) 728-6550.