Blood supply drops to emergency levels

POULSBO — Forty-five to 60 minutes can potentially save someone’s life.

That’s how long it takes to donate blood. And the blood you give could save the life of a neighbor or a resident of Houston.

This summer has been especially challenging for blood centers nationally, between Western Washington’s recent heatwave and the damage wrought on Houston brought by Hurricane Harvey.

This is why Bloodworks Northwest is issuing an emergency appeal for donors. Inventories alarmingly fell from the normal operating supply of four days to less than a one day’s supply.

“The end of summer and the beginning of fall — otherwise, now — is always a difficult time to recruit blood donors,” Bloodworks president and CEO James P. AuBuchon, MD, said. “Families are on vacation, kids aren’t back in school yet, and folks are typically away from the usual places we can find them. It’s difficult for us to ensure the regular supply of blood donations.”

Responding to emergencies, like the flooding in Houston, requires blood that is already collected, tested, on the shelves and ready for immediate use, AuBuchon noted.

“For many blood types, we are now looking at empty shelves,” he said. “Only a four-day inventory allows us to respond immediately to emergencies, or to a dramatic increase in needs from patients. We’re relying on local donors to help us respond to this emergency.”

In the latest report, roughly 75 units have been sent from Bloodworks Northwest to Houston. Houston’s Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center collects roughly 1,000 units a day. Because of heavy flooding, the center hasn’t been operating for a week.

The first units of blood reached the Gulf Coast just before the storm hit. The first post-flood shipment went out at 7 a.m. Aug. 28. The shipment landed in Dallas and was then transported to Houston.

“The flooding disaster in Houston has knocked out that local community’s supply of what they need locally,” AuBuchon said. “We are not predicting their blood center will be back up and fully operational for many months.”

Though AuBuchon said the system is re-evaluating daily how much blood they need, the need is ongoing for locally and nationally.

“We’re calling on our community for support,” he said. “Our need hasn’t changed, but for some patients at the Anderson Cancer Center, the need is ongoing. For those needing chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants, their need for blood doesn’t disappear just because there was a flood. They need support or undoubtedly, they will die.”

There is a special need for Type O blood — the most common blood type in the Northwest — but the need for platelets and other blood types is also critical.

The shelf life of red blood, or whole blood, is 42 days. The shelf life of platelets is five days. Donors can donate 1 pint of whole blood once every eight weeks. Platelets can be donated up to 24 times a year.

AuBuchon encourages donors to assist by scheduling donations and being aware of blood drives in the area.

“We need to have a sustained response,” he said. “Particularly when a disaster like this will play out over months. Don’t disrupt your holiday weekend plans or make a heroic effort to donate today, but if you hear of a blood drive, recognize that this help is needed locally and nationally. We need to have a continuous supply of donors all the time.”

This week, to encourage donations, centers across Western Washington and Oregon are offering Beanbox samples of locally roasted coffee beans.

“This problem isn’t going to solve itself quickly,” AuBuchon said. “This is an effort that we and the community will have to undertake for some time. And we’re happy to assist Houston in any way we can, because one day when the big one hits Seattle, we will need help in the same way.”

Bloodworks (formerly Puget Sound Blood Center) was established 70 years ago. The volunteer-supported and community-based nonprofit serves patients in more than 90 hospitals in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

Bloodworks Research Institute performs leading-edge research in blood biology, transfusion medicine, blood storage and treatment of blood disorders. Patients with traumatic injuries, undergoing surgeries or organ transplantation or receiving treatment for cancer and blood disorders all depend on our services, expertise, laboratories, and research. For more information, visit bloodworksnw.org.

The closest Bloodworks Northwest Donor Center is located at 3230 NW Randall Way, Silverdale. Call 360-308-7340 for more details. To schedule an appointment to donate blood, call 1-800-398-7888 or visit www.bloodworks.nw.org/schedule.

Keegan Sawyers, manager of operations at Silverdale’s Bloodworks Northwest, said he comes to work every day to help make a difference.

“It’s the connection with the community,” he said. “That’s our mission, is to save lives.”

HELPING IN HOUSTON
Two local firefighters and one anesthesiologist are among a team of seven assisting through Empact Northwest in the relief effort in Houston.

Jake Gillanders, a lieutenant with Poulsbo Fire and Rescue and executive director of Empact Northwest, is assisting as the incident manager for this deployment.

Tevya Friedman, a Poulsbo fire fighter paramedic, is serving in Houston as Empact Northwest’s squad leader and Ken Klions, an anesthesiologist at Harrison Medical Center, is serving as a disaster physician in the relief effort.

As of 0800 on Aug. 27, Empact Northwest opened their Deployment Operations Center in order to facilitate the deployment of their team to Texas and Louisiana.

Friedman and Klions flew out with five other Pierce and King county members of the Empact Northwest team on Aug. 28. They return home Sept. 1, after assisting in the relief effort for four days.

Gillanders, who is serving from home, said Friedman and Klions have been reporting in every day.

“They are working 15- to 16-hour days, assisting multiple rescues, and working with local networks using large 5-ton high water vehicles,” Gillanders said Aug. 31. “Though they are moving about 8:30 – 9 a.m., their typical shift begins around 11 a.m. local time until about 3 a.m.

“They’re going door to door to check on people because a lot of the area hasn’t seen any resources yet.”

In fact, on Aug. 30, members of the Empact Northwest team helped rescue a woman who was seven months pregnant.

“There’s a lot of rescue work,” he said. “Physicians are assisting in places that haven’t received medical help yet, and of course, there’s a lot of high water.”

On Aug. 31, Friedman called Kitsap News Group from the emergency operations center in Orange, Texas, 50 miles from the Louisiana border. He traded work shifts and used his vacation time to be down there, and said of the experience: “We’re not really sure how long we’re going to be here. Things are changing by the hour here.”

It had been a long four days for Friedman and the Empact Northwest team. They were transported from the Baton Rouge Airport, where they put on their gear and headed out to the Lake Charles area to bring residents to higher ground.

“Every night we’ve been going to bed the following morning,” he said. “There’s such a wide area and with the typography of the land, three inches [of rain] makes a difference between wet and dry. We’re having to move from point A to point B rapidly so we don’t get trapped.”

With so many agencies and organizations assisting in the relief efforts, Friedman said it’s been difficult to get accurate information because of the use of so many different communication channels.

“We’ve got civilians, the Cajun Navy, Louisiana Volunteer Rescue, Texas Cajun Navy, and others all trying to work together. We’re so spread out and operating on different channels, so it’s difficult,” he said.

In his first day, Friedman received a stream of text messages with addresses where he was needed.

“We’ve probably moved 20-plus people on Aug. 30, taking them to the highest ground we can,” he said. “The highway is literally backed up and littered with hundreds of folks with license plates from all over the south — and starting from all over the country — to provide help.”

When asked what his next task would be, Friedman replied, “I don’t know. My guess would be more of the same. When the water recedes from one spot it drains into another.”

Of the relief experience in Texas, Friedman said, “This by far is much much more dynamic. This trip there’s not been one time where we didn’t have work. It’s a much faster pace and [we’re] making decisions on the fly. We’ve learned to divide and conquer.”

Friedman said he plans on spending Sept. 3 — his first day off at home — with my wife and son.

While Empact NW is focused on the initial rescue efforts, recovery for Louisiana and Texas will be a long road, Gillanders said.

“The number one thing people can do right now is to donate to recognized organizations working directly in those areas,” he said. “And remember them when they’re out of the headlines. There will be a lot of need for a long time.”

Empact Northwest is an all-hazards response organization that serves locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

“Our mission at this port when we return is to continue monitoring additional weather,” Gillanders said. “There will be another event. We have to ready to respond to that just how we responded to this one.”

— Sophie Bonomi is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact her at sbonomi@soundpublishing.com.

Jake Gillanders … Poulsbo firefighter is assisting in the Houston relief effort. (Empact Northwest)

Jake Gillanders … Poulsbo firefighter is assisting in the Houston relief effort. (Empact Northwest)

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