Doctor Has a Plan for Blood Donations; Pre-Screened Emergency 'Disaster Donors' Would Be Alerted to Report to a Collection Center

Article excerpt

Initial reports from the Boston Marathon bombings told of valiant runners who raced straight to hospitals to donate their blood, symbolizing the triumph of the human spirit. But any blood collected did not benefit the people injured in the bombings on April 15.

After blood is donated, it goes through a two- to three-day process of testing and processing. Blood gets separated into red blood cells, plasma and platelets. It is often shipped out of the immediate area and shared with nearby communities. But on the battlefield, without the cushion of time, military doctors, nurses and soldiers stick their arms out to give whole blood that is immediately used in transfusions.

Dr. Philip Spinella of St. Louis Children's Hospital thinks the same idea can work in American cities hit by natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Later this month, he'll meet with federal health officials in Washington to discuss whole blood donations in emergency situations. He was part of federal advisory committee that came up with such a plan in 2007, using models of a hypothetical bombing at a Super Bowl victory parade in downtown Boston.

The task force surveyed Boston hospitals and estimated that 8,600 units of red blood cells were available within an hour of downtown. A severely injured patient who needs blood gets an average of six units. The team studied potential scenarios where large quantities of blood would be needed. If a bomb exploded at a Super Bowl victory parade, according to their hypothesis, the blood supply would be exhausted after treating 1,400 people with moderate to severe injuries. Nuclear bombs would inflict far greater casualties and a faster depletion of blood.

"What is important to me is to expose the fact that all of our major cities are at risk of running out of blood in any significant event," Spinella said.

Emergency preparedness typically focuses on evacuations and the supply of hospital beds and ventilators. The blood supply hasn't received as much attention. But each summer, American Red Cross and other blood collection agencies in St. Louis put out daily alerts about low supplies.

Under the committee's emergency plan, local health officials would trigger the whole blood collection program. Pre-screened donors who have given blood in the previous six months would be alerted to report to a blood collection center. …