Opinion: To be effective and humane, blood centers must serve bloody well all of us

Staff File Photo Py Matt Hamilton / Phlebotomist April Dempsey, left, checks on freshmen Ainsley Gillespie and Will Harden as they donate blood in the Tennessee Room during Bloodanooga, a two-day blood drive, at the University Center on the UTC campus on Wednesday, September 28, 2022.

The caller had a point to make about blood donations.

As a recent and frequent donor to Chattanooga-based Blood Assurance, he said he'd been told the center was practically out of blood. He was told trauma surgeries for the suspected perpetrators of street gun crimes had sucked up much of the banked blood. In turn, he was told, some of the local hospitals might have to delay needed or scheduled surgeries because of the lack of blood.

His sentiment was that it was a shame blood has to go to criminal types when it might be better used elsewhere.

A reader whose Rant will be published in the Times Free Press Perspective section this Sunday also may have had knowledge of the blood supply or been told a similar story. The ranter said the blood supply was partially depleted because of trauma services needed for a shoplifting suspect (and her passenger) who fled a traffic stop earlier this week. As the suspect fled, she changed lanes and caused a crash involving five additional vehicles, shutting down Interstate 75 South for three hours.

"Violent criminals, store your own blood," the ranter wrote. "Plan ahead."

We sympathize with the caller and the ranter in the thought that the needs of those suspected of crimes could come ahead of those of innocent and law-abiding people. But that's the price we pay to have a first-rate, safe, nonprofit blood center that supplies blood and blood components to area hospitals.

Further, it wouldn't be practical for donors, blood center employees or hospital staffers to determine whether they could give Bob's blood to a crack user who'd passed out and cut his head but not a thug who accidentally gunned down a child during a drive-by shooting.

The Blood Assurance website explains that blood donated by volunteers goes to hospitals in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee and that it is given "every day to save people of every age including premature babies, oncology patients, trauma victims and surgery patients, among others."

An online search did not turn up any instances of nonprofit blood centers across the country where people had a choice about who receives their blood.

However, Blood Assurance and undoubtedly other blood centers allow people to donate blood for themselves. For what is called an autologous blood donation, the donor who is expecting to need a transfusion, such as for a scheduled surgery, can in the weeks or days ahead of the surgery — and usually with the arrangement of their physician — donate their blood and have it returned to them, if needed, during the procedure.

At the time of Blood Assurance's start in 1972, its then-president, Carlos C. Smith, explained what the organization was replacing.

"In the past," he said, according to a Chattanooga News-Free Press article, "the residents of the Chattanooga area have relied on small blood banks, family, friends and commercially available blood to meet their needs in a time of medical emergency."

The inconvenience of donating when needed, the time required and the risk of poor quality blood were also factors for creating the blood center, Smith said.

"We feel a community-wide blood program administered by professional personnel and controlled by interested local citizens is the best that can be offered," he said.

The center was the combined undertaking of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, the Chattanooga Area Hospital Council and the Chattanooga Jaycees.

A glance at newspaper archives in the 51 years since shows it is not unusual for Blood Assurance to occasionally issue pleas for blood, either of a specific type or all types.

Blood centers across the country also signaled a drop in donations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"People aren't donating as often as before the pandemic," a New Jersey hospital blood services business liaison said earlier this year, "so we're still experiencing periodic shortages. We haven't been able to build up a reserve, so certain blood types and products are always in high demand."

Blood Assurance, as recently as three weeks ago (about when the aforementioned caller donated), issued a news release that said due to "recent traumas," it was in dire need of O-positive blood. Its supply had diminished, it said, and multiple emergency room patients at area hospitals needed a "considerable number of units in order to survive."

While we don't like to think of a murder suspect getting the blood that Grandma might need during her hip replacement, we're glad in the final analysis that Blood Assurance will provide, as its says is its mission, "a safe and adequate supply of blood and blood components to every patient in need."

So Grandma might have to wait a day or two for that surgery, but "every" means every.