Critical blood shortage affecting people being treated for cancer


ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — As many of us are getting back to life with most state restrictions lifted here in New York, many are feeling more comfortable having elective procedures again, that were put on hold during the worst of the pandemic. Trouble is, that is only adding to the nationwide blood shortage, and that’s not the only factor leading to the critical need for blood and blood products, like platelets, in particular right now.

David Salway’s life depends on getting platelet transfusions. The Delmar man was diagnosed with multiple myeloma a year ago and had a stem cell transplant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City back in January. He also receives treatment at St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center in the Capital Region.

Salway telling NEWS10, “After the stem cell transplant, I had no immune system so building that backs up was very difficult at the time. My counts were so low, so having those transfusions were really important at the time, including now as well when I go through some of the chemotherapy at the same time.”

Carolyn Whittaker is an infusion nurse who works with many being treated for cancer like David. She knows how critical it is that the blood is there when people fighting cancer need it, to replenish their blood counts and sustain them after chemotherapy. “

We call the blood bank to make sure it’s there for them. Sometimes we have to get it at another location. Sometimes we have to have someone come back the next day” Whittaker told us.

But it’s not possible if the blood isn’t available. Whittaker says, “When you get treatment, unfortunately, it can’t differentiate between the good cells and the bad cells, so it will knock their counts down. People in order to get treated, need to have good counts.”

Jeff Hall is with the Massachusetts Red Cross and he says there is a severe blood shortage right now. He explains there is a critical need for platelets and blood in general nationwide, as pandemic restrictions loosen, and people are out and about more.

“There have been more traumas in the last 3 months than normal, so we’re getting these requests for the O type blood and that’s the blood that sits on the shelf that can be given to anyone. O positive and O negative blood are needed” Hall said.

Elective surgeries that were put off for a year are picking up again. Also, more are getting cancer treatment as the pandemic wanes. The reason – many who weren’t checked out during quarantine, are just being diagnosed and treated now. Hall says in the last three months the Massachusetts Red Cross has given out 75,000 more blood products than it anticipated.

Yet only 5% of the population eligible to donate blood, actually does so. The reality is we all know someone affected by cancer and they just might need you to survive another day, like David Salway.

“Just having it there and knowing that if these side effects come into play you can reverse some of that, is really important, critically important. I appreciate the generosity of people that are coming in that can donate the blood products,” Salway said.

While type “O” blood is needed the most, different blood products are needed, like those critical platelets. So, if you’re healthy and can donate, your help is desperately needed. It takes about an hour to donate blood. If you’re donating platelets, in particular, it takes a little longer – about an hour and a half. No matter what, you can save up to three lives by donating!

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