Attendees donate blood inside a mobile unit from South Texas Blood and Tissue. Photo by Scott Ball.
Attendees donate blood inside a mobile unit from the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center

A recent influx of trauma patients coupled with a sharp rise in flu cases have depleted the local blood supply, leading the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center to ask for 2,160 donations of blood and platelets by Friday.

Elizabeth Waltman, the blood bank’s chief operating officer, said area hospitals might be forced to cancel some surgeries scheduled for Thursday if enough donations weren’t received by Wednesday evening.

As of 7 p.m., just over 500 blood donations were made, leaving the bank short of its 600 donation goal.

Roger Ruiz, communications specialist with South Texas Blood and Tissue Center (STBTC), said the organization is hopeful they will receive additional donations before the night is over thanks to business donation drives including one hosted by the San Antonio Police Department

Two patients recently admitted to University Health System’s Level I trauma center needed a significant amount of the hospital’s supply, with one patient requiring blood equivalent to that in 10 adults, said Dr. John Daniels, the hospital’s medical director for blood donor services.

“We try to have a lot [of blood] on hand to handle traumas, but there are certain ones you might not be able to anticipate, such as these two high users,” who contributed to the hospital’s supply being depleted to 40 percent of what is typically stored, Daniels said.

UHS has its own blood donation bank, but Daniels said around 55 percent to 60 percent of its blood comes from South Texas Blood and Tissue Center (STBTC).

“We are [the center’s] biggest client, but because they are a regional supplier … it’s having a profound ripple effect, and the shortage isn’t just local, it’s nationwide,” Daniels said.

Flu season is contributing to the shortage, because people can’t donate blood if they are sick. 

Waltman said that on Tuesday the organization received orders from hospitals across South Texas for more than 1,300 units of blood and platelets – more than twice the number it typically receives.

Meanwhile, the blood bank had less than 500 units of blood and platelets on the shelves to fill those orders, Waltman said.

“We’ve reached out to numerous other blood centers, but communities across the country are facing severe shortages, so there is no blood available,” said Waltman. “We are at a point when patients need everyone in our community to donate, and for business and community leaders to support blood drives. We can’t wait for someone else to step up – it’s time for Texans to help Texans.”   

While all blood types are needed, the demand is especially high for type O blood donors. O-negative donors make up just 7 percent of the population, but because O-negative blood can be used for any patient in an emergency, 12 percent of the orders from South Texas hospitals are for O-negative. South Texas patients also are requiring more type O-positive blood; orders for O-positive rose 17 percent in 2019.

The blood bank, located at 6211 IH-10 West, is extending its hours to 7 p.m. on Wednesday to accommodate donors.

UHS also accepts blood donations at its blood bank at University Hospital, located at 4502 Medical Dr. in the South Texas Medical Center, with donations going directly to patients on site.

Anyone wishing to donate blood at either STBTC or University Hospital must present identification. Donors 16 years of age must have a signed parental consent form and weigh at least 120 pounds. Anyone over the age of 17 may donate and must be in good general health and weigh at least 110 pounds. All donors are encouraged to eat well and drink plenty of water before and after they give blood.

“We are at a critical level now, and I hate to say it, but things could definitely get worse,” Daniels said. “If it gets to a point where we are at 25 to 30 percent storage, we would have to divert trauma patients” to Brooke Army Medical Center’s Level I trauma center, in addition to postponing scheduled and elective surgeries.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.