By Jason A. Smith
As blood donations in Georgia reach a relative lull, a local supplier organization is working to debunk myths which often prevent potential donors from participating.
LifeSouth is conducting blood drives locally in the coming weeks, to offset a decrease in blood donations during the holidays, according to Sheila Zachow, regional manager for LifeSouth. The decrease, Zachow said, is made more serious by certain "myths" surrounding who is eligible to donate blood, and who is not.
"A lot of people who have high blood pressure, or are on medication for high blood pressure, believe they are not able to donate," she said. "That is not always the case. We do a mini-physical, and if their blood pressure is within the acceptable range, they are able to donate."
Some diabetes patients, Zachow said, are also under the mistaken impression that their condition precludes them from donating blood.
"As long as their glucose level is within the target range for at least one month, and they haven't had to go to a physician or emergency room for six months, they could be eligible," she said.
LifeSouth, she said, makes regular deliveries of blood, to assist local patients, as the primary blood supplier for Henry Medical Center (HMC).
"Henry Medical Center uses about 4,000 units of red blood cells each year, about 350 platelet products each year," said Zachow. "They [Henry Medical Center] have a standing order with us, that meets their known needs. Anything outside of that, they would call and let us know."
She said cancer patients could be affected by low blood totals, provided to hospitals by blood-collection agencies. Chemotherapy sessions cannot be scheduled at hospitals unless blood is available in the event of a transfusion, according to Zachow.
She added that although some people believe older individuals are prohibited from donating blood, restrictions are only in place for teenagers wishing to take part in a LifeSouth drive. Teens must be at least 16, when accompanied to a blood drive by a parent, or at least 17 without a parent present.
Because LifeSouth's highest donor base consists of high-school and college students, and those individuals often travel during the month of December, donations are more scarce at a "critical" time, she continued.
"With increased travel, there is an increased need for blood at hospitals, because of accidents and trauma," Zachow said.
Doug Newton is a transfusion services supervisor for HMC, who is responsible for ensuring the hospital's blood donations comply with federal guidelines. He said circumstances including sickness, or world travel, often lessen the number of people who can donate blood.
"Only about 30 percent of our population ends up being eligible," said Newton. "And, you can only donate every two months. We don't want to take too much blood from a donor, and make them anemic."
He said a single donation of blood, goes a long way toward helping patients at the hospital.
"One donation is broken down into four products, so one donor can help out four patients," Newton said.
The last major blood shortage for the hospital, he said, occurred in January, when winter storms kept possible donors from making the trek to the hospital to give blood. Newton added that people with O-negative blood qualify as "universal" donors, whose blood can be given to any patient.
"Only a little over six percent" of the population has O-negative blood, he added.
Mary Nash is the director of perioperative services at HMC, which encompasses areas of the hospital which support its operating rooms. She said low blood supplies during this time of year, can create difficulties for medical staff striving to meet the needs of patients.
"December tends to be a heavy-volume period in the operating room," she said. "Also, there are more people on the roads, and we tend to get more patients from our emergency department. Those two things alone, increase our need for blood and blood products."
LifeSouth is sponsoring blood drives this month at the following locations and times:
Lovejoy High School, 1587 McDonough Road in Hampton, Dec. 3, from 8:30 a.m., to 2 p.m.; Walmart, 5600 North Henry Blvd., in Stockbridge, Dec. 8, from 11 a.m., to 5 p.m.; Home Helpers, 119 Rock Quarry Road in Stockbridge, Dec. 16, from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m.; Walmart, 1400 Hudson Bridge Road in Stockbridge, Dec. 23, from 11 a.m., to 5 p.m.; and Walmart, 135 Willow Lane in McDonough, Dec. 24, from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m.
For more information, call LifeSouth Community Blood Centers at (678) 432-0637.