Blood Runs Low: Calls for Black Donors
By Dianne Anderson
With COVID-19 surging off the rails and hospital beds filled to capacity, everyone is being asked to give what they can, and almost everybody can give blood.
Over the years, LifeStream had presented its annual Blood of the Martyrs blood drive under the lead of community advocate Lois Carson to commemorate Blacks who have died in the line of duty to social justice.
That event ran from Dr. King’s birthday through the day of his assassination, but the pandemic is restricting community-wide outreach this year.
Angela Ross, a regular donor, said blood is still needed, especially for persons of color. A high percentage of African Americans are Typo O, A and B positive, which are also the blood types most in demand.
When there’s not enough time to determine the person’s blood type, the physician needs to immediately treat to save someone’s life.
“We need for our folks to donate blood because the demand and use is so high. Type O plays a particular role for being the go-to type when other blood types are not immediately available,” said Ross, the spokesperson for LifeStream.
But in the Black community, she said that a long history of medical atrocities and major distrust of the medical system is holding back donations. It’s also spilling over to COVID-19 worries with getting the vaccine.
She stressed that the distrust is “well earned,” and anyone need only do a Google search on Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks.
“There has to be a way to overcome the mistrust, but we can’t use the mistrust to the extent that we end up putting our health in jeopardy,” she said.
But, she adds, “I would say due to the number of folks in our community who are dealing with Sickle Cell that we need to step up because we’re the ones who can help.”
At the same time, she applauds heroes such as researchers and scientists Vivien Thomas, Charles Drew, Marilyn Hughes Gaston, for saving millions of lives, opening the door to numerous ways that the community can participate.
It’s a two-pronged approach.
The medical community must do a better job of demonstrating equitable care for Black people, she stressed, and garner support of health professionals within the community who are aware of the needs of their community.
“My doctor is a person of color and I value his opinion. If he calls and says why haven’t you come to get your shot? I’ll be there,” she said.
Blood donation isn’t complicated. People should make sure they drink plenty of water in the days before, and eat a good healthy meal.
Most importantly, the community should know there is a serious shortage, and their donations are needed now.
As it stands, she said they are not prepared in the event of a mass casualty. Blood has to be tested and processed, and regular donations ensure there is enough on the shelf when needed for a transfusion.
“COVID stopped a lot of stuff, but it didn’t stop the need for organ transplants. A mother giving birth or newborns may need blood. Sickle Cell transfusions are needed regularly for people to have a good quality of life,” she said.
Those showing signs of COVID are not allowed to donate blood, but anyone recovered from COVID is welcome. Convalescent plasma is used to help patients with a COVID infection.
LifeStream blood donors can also expect a little free mini examination with blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and they can learn if they have already had COVID-19 antibodies.
Don Escalante, also with LifeStream, said dozens of blood drives were lost this year due to the closure of schools, churches and businesses.
Blood supplies have been tight for several months, and he said they are trying to recoup some of the loss by partnering on blood drives with fellow nonprofit programs through February.
“I hope people understand the need and how grave it is. It’s serious right now,” he said.
Nonprofit partner organizations can also make money to support their efforts as they help with blood drives. For those that draw a minimum of 20 pints, LifeStream will pay the organization $10 per pint.
The goal is to get more blood donations, and make some steady friends into the future. He said nonprofits can hold more than one drive, which can also help them as they struggle through the COVID impact.
“Our inventory is very low. We’ve struggled to meet the need,” he said. “This is a new program to try to make up for all the drives we couldn’t hold.”
For more blood donor information, call 800-879-4484 or visit www.lstream.org
To learn more about Black medical researchers and scientists, see