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San Diego Blood Bank: Blood donations low during winter

Winter is a tough time to get blood donations. Claudine Van Gonka of the San Diego Blood Bank said there's several reasons why.

“Coming out of the holidays ... people are sick," Van Gonka said. "The colleges and high schools that normally host blood drives ... are still out for this season. And that accounts for about 20% of all the blood that we collect every year.”

In order to bring awareness to the need for blood, January has been recognized as National Blood Donor Month since 1970.

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While local hospitals currently do have enough blood, Van Gonka said there’s a national blood shortage. The supply is low here in San Diego, with less than a day's supply of almost every type at the blood bank on Wednesday.

To try to make up for the shortfall, the blood bank staged blood drives at seven San Diego County Credit Union locations across San Diego and Costa Mesa.

“There is no substitute (for blood). There’s no synthetic substitute. The only chance that hospital patients who need it have are people coming in to donate blood,” Van Gonka said.

One pint of blood can help up to three people as there's three components to a whole blood donation — red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Each component can go into a different patient.

Supply chain issues that have hit so many sectors are also impacting the blood bank. "We have run out of these special kits that we use to collect what we call ‘double reds’ from certain donors," Van Gonka said. "So that’s basically a two red blood cell donation in one appointment. But because we don’t have those special kits, those folks can only donate one pint, so we need people to come in and fill the gap.”   

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Pamela Hansen was one of the donors who came to Wednesday's drive. She said she started donating because both her parents were donors. Her mother has passed away and her father is too old to donate, so she continues to donate in their honor.

Hansen has been a blood donor for almost 40 years and has donated about six gallons of blood. She said one of those donations was extra special.

“A friend of mine had breast cancer when we were 40,” Hansen said. “So I donated for her then, and they were able to use my donation in her surgery, because she wanted to make sure she knew where the blood came from.”  

For those who may be a little nervous to donate, Hansen said: “Just know that it is ok and they’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s really safe."       

Donors have to be at least 17 years old and 114 pounds. Anyone who has had COVID-19 recently has to wait at least 10 days from their last symptoms before donating.

More information about donating blood is available at the San Diego Blood Bank website.