Although the 2014 polar vortex has been over for almost two weeks, the effect of the cold weather and massive snowstorms that pounded West Michigan earlier this month linger on.
January is historically a low month in terms of blood donations at Michigan Blood, but the harsh weather pushed that number even lower.
The holidays always prompt a drop in blood donations because people aren’t following normal schedules, making it hard to find time to donate. Area high schools — which are huge contributors — aren’t open over the holiday break, so the demand in early January is always there.
“We come out of December needing an astounding amount,” said Jim Childress, vice president of community relations at Michigan Blood. “Then on the heels of the holidays, we have this weather.”
With people unable or unwilling to leave the house, blood donations dropped dramatically. Childress said that on Jan. 6, only 44 donations were made across the state’s nine blood centers; a normal day sees up to 400.
“A day like that can really challenge us,” he said. “We have a 99.9 percent track record of having blood when people need it. We always stay ahead of the curve, but it is a major logistical challenge.”
On Jan. 7, the St. Joseph center was completely shut down because I-94 was closed and most roads were impassable. Donations scheduled for schools were cancelled when schools were closed.
“It was a perfect storm after a perfect storm,” Childress said. “It was the time we could least afford to have this situation.”
Even a few days of a drop in blood donations are crucial. Blood is a perishable resource, and a drop in supply means lives are at risk when the steady flow stops. While plasma can be frozen and stored for months, red blood cells — the most needed — have a 42-day shelf life and platelets have a five-day shelf life.
During normal shortages, blood organizations throughout the country help each other out, making up for lack of supply in certain regions. But in this case, the weather system was so widespread that more centers than usual were facing a shortage.
When reserves run dry, it can take time to get back to the level needed for adequate supply.
Following the holidays, Michigan Blood offers free movie passes to anyone who attempts to donate at one of the centers. From Jan. 10-17, the centers offered a $10 Meijer gift card to anyone who came in to donate.
“The public has responded, and we’re back up to normal demand levels,” Childress said. “But it’ll take weeks before we are at the level we need.”
Childress said only about 3 to 5 percent of the population who are eligible to donate blood do so, and even then, he said, sometimes those people do so sporadically — maybe just once every two or three years.
“We want people to realize they can save a life every 56 days — six times a year. We appreciate the generosity it takes to devote to a lifelong habit.”
For information about donating blood, visit miblood.org.