Blood donations needed in McHenry County

If 1% more of Americans donated blood, there would be no shortage, Versiti says

As people go about finding gifts for others this holiday season, health care professionals in McHenry County are asking that everyone consider giving the gift of life by donating blood.

With fewer blood donors than before the pandemic, health care workers worry the supply of blood could reach levels that may leave some people who need a blood transfusion waiting. They are hoping more people step up and donate to ensure no one will have to wait for blood as part of their emergency care, surgery or cancer treatment.

“With COVID, we’ve seen donation supply go down, but we continue to experience high volumes of patients who are very sick, so the demand is still there. I would say it’s probably higher,” said Catie Schmidt, chief nurse executive at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital.

Blood donations serve many purposes, including helping crash victims who lost blood, replenishing one’s blood after a surgery or helping a cancer patient.

“Blood transfusions are vital to patients who require it,” Schmidt said. “It’s a lifesaving measure.”

It takes at least five days for a person’s blood donation to be used, Schmidt said, but although a person usually donates about 1 pint of blood at a time, a person who needs a blood transfusion can use much more than 1 pint.

“A lot of people don’t realize the everyday use of blood,” said Carrie Futchko, a donor recruiter for Versiti. “If you’re losing blood on a constant basis, you have to replenish it.”

Taryn Kraemer, of Wonder Lake, left, and her mother, Nanette Colwell, of McHenry, center, prepare to have a donation of blood drawn by phelotomist Stephen Buhrt, right, during a Versiti blood drive on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Richmond. A shortage in the blood supply has again resurged and blood drives are hopeful for donors.

Each person has about 8 to 9 pints of blood, Futchko said. In serious cases, a person may need up to 100 units of blood at one time. She said 4.5 million Americans need a blood transfusion every year, but about 5% of Americans actually donate blood.

“There’s more people getting vaccinated, and they’re returning to a sense of normalcy, and unfortunately, blood donations aren’t part of that,” Futchko said.

Versiti always hosts blood drives throughout the year to keep the blood supply stocked. If the supply runs low, people who need procedures or help may not be able to get what they need in an appropriate amount of time.

“Until you need that transfusion or know someone who does, a lot of people don’t recognize that need is constant,” Futchko said. “As much as we struggle for donations, somehow they’re still stepping up to the plate.”

Each time a person donates blood they can save up to three lives, Futchko said.

Hospitals still have an appropriate amount of blood on hand even though donations are down, Schmidt said, but they need to be able to keep up with the demand.

“We’re consistently at capacity at our hospital, if not over capacity,” Schmidt said. “We continue to see patients that are very acutely ill, not necessarily related to COVID, just other things.”

Edward Varga, of Richmond, has blood drawn by phlebotomist Katrina White during a Versiti blood drive hosted by the Knights of Columbus and Girl Scouts on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Richmond. A shortage in the blood supply has again resurged and blood drives are hopeful for donors.

Blood is in constant need almost every second of the day, according to Versiti. A person requires blood every two seconds, leading to 29,000 units of red blood cells getting used every day. One in 7 people who are admitted to the hospital will need a blood transfusion.

“If everyone who could donate blood would, we wouldn’t even have a shortage,” she said.

If 1% more Americans donated blood, shortages of blood would disappear, according to Versiti.

Not everyone can donate blood, according to the American Red Cross. About 37% of Americans are able to donate, but common reasons a person would not be eligible include travel to countries where malaria is present, certain medications, low iron levels or illness.

People also must wait certain periods of time before donating depending on what kind of blood donation in which they participate.

Although the need for blood is constant, having people to donate around the holidays is even more important because the number of people donating decreases as people attend to other obligations.

“It’s a free opportunity to give back to your community,” Futchko said.

Futchko said she especially wants to encourage younger people to donate to replace donors who are aging.

People who want to donate blood can visit to find blood drives scheduled near their community.