Now that the nation has reflected on the two-year anniversary of hurricanes Rita and Katrina, disturbing new statistics have been released that suggest staying prepared for the next large-scale disaster will be harder than ever before. This new information relates to the blood supply, and the fact that the number of eligible donors in the U.S. has just been reduced from 60 percent to 37 percent.
Why the drastic drop? The new data - published in the July 2007 issue of the blood banking journal Transfusion - cites that improved testing to ensure greater safety for donors and recipients has removed more potential donors from the pool due to high-risk behaviors, chronic diseases and exposure to diseases through travel.
When that figure was at 60 percent, it was known that only about 5 percent of eligible people actually ever donate. Now that the cushion of known available donors has gotten much smaller, it is more important than ever for all people who are eligible to take the time to help save a life by donating blood. Then, they should come back to donate again.
The Red Cross depends on the public - on volunteer blood and platelet donors - to make sure that the community blood supply is at a safe level at all times, including what would be needed in the event of a major disaster. In our region, that could mean a catastrophic earthquake, bird-flu pandemic or fast-moving forest fire - all of which have the potential to render many victims in need of transfusions. Even on a routine basis, every day more than 38,000 people in the U.S. need a blood transfusion to survive. That's one person every two seconds.
Quite simply, the numbers of blood donors in our region and around the country must go up. More eligible people need to step up to the plate and help the Red Cross stay prepared to meet all levels of blood need.
If you were moved by the two-year anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and are wondering what more you can do here at home, here is an easy and practical way you can help. Give blood. It only takes about an hour of your time, and the single unit you donate could be used to save more than one life.
Thomas Bruner is the regional executive of the Oregon Red Cross Chapters.
Eric Brown is the CEO of the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services.