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Blood supply plummets

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | August 24, 2022 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A single blood donation can save three lives.

With the local blood supply depleted by almost half since the start of summer, and only a day’s worth of O-positive blood available, donations are more important than ever.

“We’re in an emergency shortage,” said Jennifer Hawkins, regional director of Vitalant Northwest. “We’re seeing numbers we’ve never seen before.”

Vitalant is a nonprofit that provides donated blood to more than 40 hospitals throughout the Inland Northwest, including Kootenai Health.

The number of regular donors has plummeted in the last decade, from about 100,000 to around 23,000. More than 200 donors a day are needed to maintain a five-day blood supply in the region.

“We cannot continue at these levels,” Hawkins said. “We need people to begin donating and keep donating.”

Donations tend to dwindle in the summer months, Hawkins said, especially around holidays, as people travel or take time off work or school.

But injuries and illnesses requiring blood transfusions don’t take the summer off. The need for donated blood is constant.

The idea of donating blood is daunting to some, Hawkins said, often because of worries about needles or pain. She noted that the donation takes about 10 minutes and most donors only feel a mild, brief pinch.

“It’s painless when you don’t look,” she said. “I never look.”

Donors can choose to receive a text message when their blood is sent to a hospital.

“In that moment, you know your blood is on its way to save a life,” Hawkins said.

The Food and Drug Administration recently changed eligibility requirements, making it possible for more people to donate.

Previously, people were unable to donate blood if they had traveled to France, Ireland or the United Kingdom due to the risk of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as mad cow disease. Now they can donate with Vitalant.

“It’s exciting that they can come in now and donate,” Hawkins said. “So many of our military were deferred.”

Vitalant has a blood donation center in Coeur d’Alene at 405 W. Neider Ave., Suite 102.

Schedule an appointment to donate blood at www.vitalant.org.

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