When emergency room doctors need more blood while operating on trauma patients, all they have to do is push a button.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep the blood flowing.
The American Red Cross is currently facing a critical blood shortage nationwide, said Laura McGuire, external communications manager for the American Red Cross.
Such shortages can affect a critical tool doctors have at their disposal during emergency operations.
When trauma patients losing blood reach the emergency room at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville, the blood bank will deliver a standard amount of blood, often three units, to keep the patient stable while doctors work to find the cause of bleeding, said Dr. Yone Amuka, a board-certified emergency medicine physician.
If the initial blood supply is not enough, doctors will push a button for more, allowing them to perform a massive transfusion protocol, Amuka said. Blood comes until doctors tell it to stop.
But when doctors such as Amuka push the button during shortages, the additional blood might not last as long as they need it to.
“That’s a scary situation because there isn’t much else for the patient before you get to the operating room to close the source of the bleeding,” Amuka said.
As of July 5, the American Red Cross had 61,000 fewer donations than needed for the previous two months, the equivalent of going four days without collecting blood, the Red Cross said in a news release.
The need for blood is constant but increases dramatically in the summer, McGuire said.
The current deficit is on par with how low the blood supply gets every summer, she said.
People traveling and schools being out of session are the two biggest reasons why donations lag, McGuire said. Twenty percent of the Red Cross’ blood supply comes from blood drives at high schools and college campuses.
In addition to the decreased blood supply, summer often comes with higher demand for blood.
Amuka said more travelers means more crashes that send people to the emergency room.
Getting people to donate blood is especially important in Janesville because of the high numbers of blunt-trauma patients who get treated at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, Amuka said.
Blunt trauma often occurs from car crashes, Amuka said.
Many crashes involve more than one vehicle with more than one person in each vehicle, and when there are more victims, there is more demand for blood, Amuka said.
“We are very well versed here in blunt trauma,” Amuka said. “If I had to be treated for that, this is where I would want to be treated.”
The ability to perform the massive transfusion protocol is a “big deal” and helps distinguish Mercy as a Level II trauma center, Amuka said.
Blood must be used within 42 days of being donated; otherwise, the red blood cells die, McGuire said.
Those oxygen-carrying cells are what keep the brain alive while doctors operate and patients lose blood, Amuka said.
Amuka said he donates blood regularly during employee blood drives at the hospital.
The Red Cross conducts employee drives, which generate about 30 donors each. More than 200 Mercyhealth employees in Janesville donate each year, said Trish Reed, media and public relations specialist for Mercyhealth.
All blood types are accepted at Red Cross blood drives, McGuire said.
The entire blood donation process, including a brief medical screening, lasts about an hour, McGuire said.