2 minute readBlood, Disaster

How Disasters Affect the Blood Supply for Patients in Need

A photo of a damaged home after a hurricane.

When people hear there is a need for blood following a disaster, many think of disaster victims and serious injuries. Yet, hurricanes like that we recently experienced with Hurricane Michael and Florence have relatively few people whose injuries require blood transfusions due to the storm, causing some to wonder why there is an increased need for blood donations.

Why Hurricanes Hurt Blood Donations

Disasters like hurricanes often force the cancellation of many blood drives across a large geographic area, causing hundreds to thousands of units of blood to go uncollected. In fact, this fall, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence have forced the cancellation of about 250 blood drives, causing nearly 7,500 units of blood and platelets to go uncollected in the Southeast.

Photo of a road closure after a hurricane.Low donor turnout also occurs in these affected areas as communities recover from storm damage. Power outages, residual floodwaters and other infrastructure challenges can hamper the ability of community organizations to host blood drives and individuals to attend blood drives.

Despite severe weather, the need for blood is constant. Blood can take up to three days to be tested, processed and made available for patients, so even a few days of disruption can affect patient care. Blood donations also cannot be stockpiled; red blood cells must be transfused within 42 days of donation and platelets within just five days.

Each blood donor and every blood drive matters for patients who are depending on these lifesaving donations.

When Blood Supplies Dwindle

Tymia sitting in the doctor's office with her doctor.

This past summer, the Red Cross shared the story of a remarkable young girl named Tymia McCullough who relies on blood donations to help battle sickle cell disease and stay healthy.

Unfortunately, as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the coast, Tymia and her family needed to evacuate their home in South Carolina. At a nearby shelter, Tymia experienced a painful sickle cell crisis and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. She was then transported to another hospital where she waited ten, long hours for that hospital to locate the blood Tymia needed for her treatment.

Thankfully, Tymia is doing better today. Yet her experience illustrates the ongoing need for blood, and at times, the frightening reality patients face during disasters when needed blood supplies become critically low.

How to Help Patients

Right now, the Red Cross is asking eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

With the ability to move blood across the country, Red Cross blood donations will become part of our national blood inventory, helping to ensure we can help meet patient needs that arise wherever and whenever blood is needed most. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease all count on blood donations to battle illness and injury.

Who Can Donate Blood

Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in.