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Summer blood need runs high at Stanford

A spate of heart operations and an organ transplant at Stanford Hospital prompted the university’s blood center to issue an urgent call for O+ donors last week.

donating blood
Howard Bischoff/Town Crier
Stanford Blood Center called for O+ donors last week after a series of operations and a transplant depleted its blood center’s supply.

The crisis passed as donors heeded the call in a matter of days, but the “heat map” of most-needed blood types continued to show shifting shortages that can track with individual patients.

Just a few pediatric heart patients can require support from as many as 300 donor products, explained blood center spokesman Loren Magana. The surgeries, transfusions or transplants scheduled locally can see such a high volume of blood products that the center’s supply dips on a daily or weekly basis for select blood types – which is why the center maintains a “most needed” listing and puts out calls for specific donors in addition to its ongoing donation drives.

“In summertime, many of our regular donors are traveling and we don’t have our high school and college blood drives to help bring in new first-time donors,” Magana said. The blood center has started offering a free Cinemark Theatres movie ticket to donors every Monday this summer. The day isn’t a coincidence – hospitals order the units they need at the beginning of the week.

The blood supply that modern hospitals use comes from three sources – volunteer, paid and donated by friends or family of specific patients. Stanford Blood Center places a high value on volunteer donations because they are the most likely to include accurate and complete disclosure of safety risks on the part of donors – in the U.S., the vast majority of donations are volunteer and intended for unspecified recipients, 99.2 percent at Stanford Blood Center. The center does not pay for blood. 

The center screens all blood collected for a broad panel of diseases. Some viruses, such as cytomegalovirus, are common in the population but little recognized in the day-to-day. The cold-like virus can be risky for sensitive patients and pregnant women, so donated blood is screened, and curious donors can find out if they test positive for it.

Zika screening

The center recently added new, experimental screening for Zika virus. The mosquitoes that carry Zika have been intermittently detected in and around the Bay Area but only transmit the disease when their local food supply carries the virus, which is not yet the case locally. The donor screening for Zika remains an Investigational New Drug protocol, which means blood donors sign a special consent process for the screening. Because of the comprehensive testing, the center does not defer blood donation for those who have traveled to areas with Zika activity or have partners who have done so. Anyone who has tested positive for Zika is indefinitely deferred from donation until the virus is better understood.

The center also tests donor blood for hepatitis, HIV, West Nile, syphilis and Chagas disease.

For more information on donation, visit stanfordbloodcenter.org.

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