Houchin Community Blood Bank offers its sincere condolences to everyone affected by the tragedy in Las Vegas, including family and friends of the five Kern County victims who died, and the Tehachapi resident still fighting for her life. This horrific event has certainly hit home for all of us. Unfortunately, we did miss an opportunity to have platelets in position to help those wounded.
Blood Centers of America contacted Houchin Community Blood Bank at 9:55 a.m. Sept. 20 in a desperate search for 50 units of lifesaving platelets for the American Red Cross. Sadly, we had none to offer, as our own collections were barely enough to sustain our regular patient needs.
Day after day all week we had begged people to come in to donate platelets, but nothing worked. Had we had any to share, they would have immediately been on their way to the national supply chain, which just hours later was sending additional supplies to back up ready supplies in Las Vegas to save lives in the worst mass shooting in United States history.
Lesson 1: The blood on the shelves saves lives.
Lives hanging in the balance due to bleeding, like the injuries faced by so many victims in Las Vegas, need three products in combination to stop the bleeding and survive: plasma, platelets, and then red cells. These are repeated until the bleeding is under control; they're called the Massive Transfusion Protocol, or MTP. The MTP was developed on the battlefields in Iran and Iraq and is now used in all trauma centers nationwide.
All these products must all be on the shelf at the hospital, available to save lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The local blood bank is notified an MTP is underway, and additional products rushed in to provide backup supplies. If additional stocks are needed, the blood bank taps into their own unique supply chains of other nearby banks and/or the national supply chains, which include our affiliate BCA, and the Red Cross.
The existing blood distribution system sends needed products around the nation every day. So long as regular donors keep up donations, and mobile buses can hit the road, there is sufficient tested blood and plasma on the shelves, although it may need to be moved around in emergencies.
These products are readily available because plasma can be frozen for up to a year, and red blood cells have a 42 day shelf life. Both can be stocked in quantity. The same is not true of platelets, which must be kept warm and moving, so that they stay viable. They only last five days, so a steady stream of donors is needed each day to provide them.
Lesson 2: There is never a need for blood donation lines. The donations given after a need occurs will not be ready to distribute for at least 24 hours due to testing. Unfortunately, calls to donate blood after the shooting motivated thousands of donors nationwide to get in line to donate whole blood, and blood banks, including ours, were inundated with goodhearted donors.
According to the Red Cross, they transferred just 250 units of red blood cells to help Las Vegas hospitals, a mere drop compared to all that was donated in an effort to help afterwards. If not used, those products will all expire in November. The best message is contact your local blood bank to make arrangements to donate what is needed over the next weeks.
Lesson 3: More people need to give platelets. Even though it takes a little more time, if you have the veins and platelet count to do it, please, please, find out more about donating them. Before, during and after the shooting platelets have been in short supply. We are still turning down blood banks checking to see if we have any to share today.
Thankfully, the message has been getting out locally that platelets are what is most needed now, and we have been able to find new donors this week, but many more are needed. Platelets are needed by surgery and cancer patients, premature infants and a host of other ill and injured people every day. None of these patients will survive without volunteer donors.
To find out more about platelet donation, call 661-323-4222. With your help, when the next call for platelets comes, we will be able to say: “Yes, we can help.”
Carola Enriquez is director of community development for Houchin Community Blood Bank of Bakersfield.