UMC blood supply desperately low as national blood shortage continues

trauma surgeon speaks on national blood shortage
trauma surgeon speaks on national blood shortage(KCBD)
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 6:14 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Blood banks across the country are at their lowest point in more than a decade.

Doctors are struggling to maintain a safe level of blood products across the nation, sending and filling requests from other hospitals to maintain blood banks.

Robyn Richmond with UMC says keeping a safe supply on-hand can directly affect their ability to save patient lives. Now, the hospital is relying on donors to help replenish its supply as this shortage puts patients at risk.

“The longer we have a low number of blood products in the hospital, the riskier it potentially is for our patients who come in,” Richmond said.

One freezer, normally full, sits empty at UMC, the valuable resource missing from stock as doctors and surgeons continue to work.

“Hemorrhagic shock is the leading cause of death in trauma patients,” Richmond said. “So those patients bleed to death. We as surgeons, we’re trying to stop the bleeding, we often need to transfuse them to keep them alive when we do a life-saving surgery.”

With this shortage ongoing, Richmond says the hospital is concentrating on methods that help conserve blood, while operating on patients whose lives may be on the line.

“Right now we seem to be okay, but we’re looking at mechanisms in place that we can utilize if our blood supply shortage continues for longer than we’re comfortable with, which is longer than a few hours,” Richmond said

One technique, self-salvage, is a process of catching blood lost from a patient and cycling it back into their body during surgery. This helps conserve resources and keep patients alive.

“We’re definitely having a lot more of a focus on doing self-salvage in the operating room,” Richmond said. “So we’re asking not just the trauma surgeons but the orthopedic surgeon and the spine surgeons, those are surgeries that lose a lot of blood, to really try to use the self-salvage mechanism when they can.”

In the worst case scenario, as the only level one trauma center in the region, if the hospital were to deplete its supply of blood completely, the effects would have sweeping consequences.

“There’s a situation that I can envision, although thankfully it hasn’t happened, where we would need to go on diversion as a trauma center,” Richmond said. “But we serve a 250-mile radius. We’re the only level one trauma center in the region, so if we go on diversion, that’s a really big deal for this entire region and for the community.”

As a trauma surgeon, Richmond is no stranger to stressful situations, but this one she says is jarring for her as a medical professional.

“It’s a little bit nerve racking as a healthcare provider, as a trauma surgeon, to feel this blood shortage,” Richmond said. “So knowing that’s there, but knowing that what we have to do everyday is save lives, and often time those lives need to be saved with blood, is kind of a weight that we didn’t have to carry before.”

Blood is a medical tool that can’t be manufactured. It must come from a person.

With that in mind, Richmond has one message for the community.

“Every donation makes a difference,” Richmond said. “I would encourage everyone who has the ability to donate medically to please get out and do it.”

The American Red Cross says every two seconds, someone in the United States needs to receive blood.

That means every day more than 700 people receive a transfusion, bringing the supply down further.

For more information on how and where to donate click here

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