Visiting the Red Cross was nothing new for Sheri Matheis of La Pine.
“I’ve donated whole blood 56 times!” she said on Tuesday at the Red Cross location in Bend’s Old Mill District.
But on World Blood Donation Day, she took a new step — donating platelets, which can take up to two hours.
“I have a three-year-old nephew in Newburg, Oregon, who was just diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “He’s having chemotherapy right now and they’ve had to give him platelets to help him through this, so I’ve been considering it for awhile and this made me decide to do it.”
Donors like Sheri help keep the blood supply afloat, but shortages have lingered since the pandemic and are only emphasized during this time of year.
“Typically as we come into the summer months, people start traveling and moving around,” said Nadine McCrindle, the Executive Director of the Central and Eastern Oregon Chapter of the American Red Cross. “We see a decline in the number of blood donations, especially during the holidays, like the Fourth of July holiday that is coming up.”
All types of blood are always welcome, she said, but the universal O-negative type is always in high demand. It’s useful during situations where patients are coming from trauma accidents and doctors don’t have time to determine what kind of blood type they are.
“This time always historically is a challenge for us to get donors to sign up as well as keep their appointments,” said Jennifer Shaw, the location’s Donor Recruitment Supervisor for Biomedical Services. “So summer is always a challenge for us. Right now we are having a difficult time filing up our drives in some of the outlying communities, and I think also right now we have less opportunities in our community because of some of our staffing challenges we’re having as well.”
Staffing shortages hinder blood collection
Staffing is another plague they haven’t managed to avoid over the past several months.
Hiring difficulties mean there is more work for the existing employees, but Collections Specialist Shauna Patterson said she doesn’t mind.
“We do work a little extra here and there, but I haven’t heard anyone complain about it. It’s something that we like to do,” she said. “We know that we’re taking a product that’s life-saving, and we’re making sure that people have longer lives, and we want to make sure that we’re here to provide that opportunity to people that need it.”
Those challenges mean it might take a little longer to get in for an appointment right now.
“The wait can be anywhere from just a couple of days to maybe up to two weeks to be able to get an appointment,” McCrindle said. “What we ask is that people still make an appointment even if it is a few weeks away, because we will still need blood as those weeks get closer.”
“By coming in and spending an hour to donate blood, you can save up to three lives, and that’s a pretty good feeling,” she added.
“This is what helps kids survive leukemia, this is what helps adults survive leukemia and other cancers and other things,” Patterson said. “Burn victims. All these products, whether it’s platelets or whole blood, there is a reason that we need these and you can’t replace this, this is something that we need and donors are a vital part of that.”
Matheis said she hopes her donations go to the people who need it most in the community.
“It’s something that there’s a desperate need for right now and the whole bloods don’t take a lot of time,” she said. “This (platelet donation) obviously takes a little bit more. There’s a desperate need for it, and people aren’t getting what they need.”
The American Red Cross is running a promotion through the month of June in which all blood donors will be entered to win a VIP trip for two to Graceland and Memphis, Tennessee.
To make an appointment to donate, you can use the American Red Cross Blood Donor app, visit redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-REDCROSS.