ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In January 2022, the Red Cross declared a national blood emergency for the first time in its history. This is believed to be another side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the Red Cross says new donor turnout declined by one-third. Meanwhile, the Red Cross provides about 40% of the nation’s blood supply.
With reserves running low, it’s forced doctors to make some tough choices on who receives donated blood. For people with chronic conditions or cancer, this situation has made life even more challenging.
One of those needing treatment is Anne Singiza,16. When asked what her favorite subject is in school, Anne doesn’t hesitate, “It’s math,” she says, “(I) like the box method, I really enjoy doing that one. Getting it all right feels good.”
However, Anne relies on another set of numbers to stay feeling good physically. “The balance is two,” she says.
The “two” she’s referring to are bags of healthy red blood cells. Anne has sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder affecting roughly 200,000 Americans. Anne’s mother, Lianne Singiza, knew her daughter might be different at a very early age. “Since she was a baby, she just cries,” Lianne recalls. “Cries a lot. The doctors did lots of tests and then we found out.”
“It’s a… like a really sharp pain,” as Anne describes it. “Or your bone will just get stuck and it won’t move.”
To get moving again, Anne sits for hours-long transfusions at Albany Medical Center. “We are a level one trauma center for adults, level two for children, so blood is vital to them,” says Dr. Maria Subik, the associate medical director of the blood bank at Albany Med, “We are also a hospital who has patients with a lot of malignancies.”
Anne falls into that latter category. Yet, when the pandemic hit, her caretakers told her they had to adjust her transfusion allotment down to one bag. “It was really rough,” she says. “It felt like I had nothing in me. I still felt tired and in pain.”
Lianne also saw the impact, but understood the explanation they received, “With COVID coming, many people needed blood. I know it’s not only sickle cell patients who need blood.”
Healthcare centers like to have a five-to-seven-day blood supply on-hand to treat all types of patients. At various points during the pandemic, that number dropped to as low as one day.
“I would say December 2021, January 2022, it got to the lowest the Red Cross said maybe in the last decade,” says Dr. Subik, “but I’ve heard people say 20 to 30 years, unprecedented.”
Similar to the supply chain issues at grocery stores, blood also has an expiration date, which further complicates things. “About a month,” Dr. Subik says of its usefulness. “It’s not something that you want to have a whole bunch of at once, and not enough of at another time, so the need is constant.”
“A lot of times we might shift blood from one area to another,” says Anne Santino, a senior account manager with the Red Cross. “Some of the hospitals were reporting that they had a very low inventory.”
The Red Cross is the only blood collection partner for local healthcare providers. All things considered, they report the numbers are back to where they need to be in our area. Still, fears about further shortages linger with COVID cases rising again and heading into summer when donations tend to drop.
“It’s depleting a little bit,” says Santino. “Places are loosening up their mask requirements, people are feeling a little more confident about going out.”
The Red Cross relies heavily on regular donors. Robin Leary has been donating platelets – another part of our blood that’s in high demand – for the last two years.
“Blood products are not something that can be manufactured,” says Leary, “You have to get them from people, so people need to step up.”
Just like Anne’s passion for math, the blood supply is all about numbers. Anne says “I really don’t like feeling how I feel when I don’t have blood (transfusions).”
Barring another local shortage, Anne is back on her regular two units. Her mother says you don’t have to be a math whiz to help solve this equation.
Lianne says, “When I see her getting her blood transfusion – it’s true, the pain doesn’t go away, to see that it’s done – but she has that energy!”
The Red Cross takes daily appointments for blood donations at its donation center on Everett Road in Albany and has a number of drives scheduled for the next few months. Here are just a few that are coming up. You may also visit their donation locator to find a drive closest to you:
AAA Hudson Valley
618 Delaware Ave.
Albany, NY 12209
05/12/2022 | Noon- 5 p.m.
436 State St.
Schenectady, NY 12305
05/12/2022 | Noon – 6 p.m.
Guilderland Town Hall
5209 Western Avenue
Guilderland, NY 12084
05/13/2022 | Noon – 6 p.m.
St. Kateri Parish
2216 Rosa Rd.
Schenectady, NY 12309
05/13/2022 | 1 p.m. – 7 p.m.
45 N Mohawk St.
Cohoes, NY 12047
05/16/2022 | 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Guilderland Public Library
2228 Western Avenue
Guilderland, NY 12084
05/17/2022 | 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
New York State United Teachers
800 Troy Schenectady Road
Latham, NY 12110
05/18/2022 | 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Lynnwood Reformed Church
3714 Carman Rd.
Schenectady, NY 12303
05/17/2022 | 1 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Empire State Plaza
Between Logan’s & Patsy’s Barber Shop
Albany, NY 12242
05/18/2022 | 7:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
RPI Chapel and Cultural Center
2125 Burdett Avenue
Troy, NY 12180
05/19/2022 | 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.