Blood bank in low supply

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By Andrea R. Solis

By Andrea R. Solis

Every three weeks since he was a year old Paul DiLorenza of Riverside has received a blood transfusion to keep him alive.

DiLorenza suffers from a rare and often fatal blood disorder called Thalassemia which interferes with his bone marrow’s ability to create blood with properly functioning hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells.

Thanks to these regular blood transfusions DiLorenza has been able to lead a normal and productive life. The 26-year-old is married and is currently working on his doctorate in computer science at UC Riverside.

DiLorenza’s success over the years has been contingent on the generosity and compassion of regular blood donors and the services of the Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

However, according to Tammy Rottellini, director of Communications and Development for the Blood Bank, the number of blood donations being made to save the lives of people like DiLorenzo does not meet the need in the San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The Blood Bank provides blood to 33 medical facilities in the Inland Empire.

In order to keep up with the demand they need 400 donations to be made daily. The current average is 300 donations.

“Patient usage is outstripping donations,” said Rotellini.

Each person will donate one pint of blood, yet a life saving operation such as a liver transplant will require at least a 100 units of blood not including post-op.

The Blood Bank would like to operate with a five day supply of each of the eight blood types in order to provide a safe and adequate blood supply for the community.

Due to the difference between the number of donors needed and the number who turn out daily, the Blood Bank has only been able to operate with a dangerously low two-day supply.

Once blood is donated it takes 48 hours to test and process it before it is ready to be used on a patient. When asked how our blood supply would hold up during a major earthquake or terrorist attack Rottellini agreed that it would be a very serious situation.

“Then again one pileup on one of our freeways would put us into a serious situation.”

“You never hear that people died because there is no blood,” Rottellini said. “You hear they died because of a car crash. I would be afraid to find out how many people have died because blood was not available.”

Sherry Gutierrez, a collections training instructor for the Blood Bank, said that there is a lending system in place between local blood banks.

The Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties can borrow blood from the Red Cross or outlying hospitals such as City of Hope in times of emergency. The fact is that they may not always have the blood to give.

Nationally only 5 percent of eligible donors give their blood.In the Inland Empire that figure is lower-3 percent.

Rottellini attributes the low percent of blood donations to lack of awareness in the community.

The Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties is a non-profit, privately funded organization and Rottellini explained that they do not have a budget for public information.

They work with a list of previous donors and make phone calls and send postcards to bring them in again, but there are no dollars available for mass mailings.

When the question was posed, Rottellini agreed that since the Blood Bank provides a public service to all residents of the two counties it is in need of governmental funding for a public information campaign to draw in more of the 45 percent of eligible donors in the population.

While no requests for money have been made yet, it will be the job of Rottellini and her new department to communicate with city and state officials and address the need for funding.

When asked for comment on the current situation of blood donation in the city, spokesperson Leanne Johnson, Intergovernmental Relations officer for the city of Riverside, provided a written statement which reads in part, “The city’s Department of Human Resources works with the Blood Bank to ensure that our blood drives occur at the times of year when the need is the greatest – typically in the fall and late spring/early summer.”

Rottellini concurred that city agencies have been very accommodating during the blood drives at City Hall and give their employees time out of their workday to go donate.

Aware of the low donation levels, DiLorenzo does what he can to get the message out about blood donation. He is all too eager to give interviews and share information on the subject.

Having received over 200 gallons of blood so far in his lifetime he credits the Blood Bank for doing an amazing job, and is grateful to those who give a little of themselves so that he might have a lot.

“When you come out and when you donate you give someone like me a life,” DiLorenzo said.

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