At the New York Blood Center, the largest independent blood bank in the country, the cupboard is bare.
"The shortage is really very severe right now," says Linda Levi, of the blood center. "Normally every rack on all the shelves . . . are filled."
Instead of the usual five-day supply of blood, they have less than a day's worth.
"Typically, we're distributing 2000 units, if we have the supply, says Dr. Roger Jones, also of the blood center. "Right now, we're distributing between 1,200 and 1,500."
And it's not just New York. Across the country, America is in a blood-supply crisis. No fewer than 20 states have issued urgent appeals for donors.
"There aren't many O's on the rack, and that's what we need the most," Levi says. "About half the population is type-O positive or type-O negative, so therefore it's most in demand."
It was a one-two punch that tapped out the blood banks. Snowstorms and cold weather caused the normal drop in donations around the holidays to plunge. Donors stayed home, and the blood supply dried up.
"We ended up postponing a few surgeries . . . mostly on O positive individuals at this hospital and others around the city," says Dr. Chris Hillyer, of Emory Medical Center in Atlanta.
Atlanta is one of the cities hardest hit by shortages. A blood drive has pumped up reserves with record numbers of donors, but the supply is still anemic and could be for weeks.
"This is the most significant blood shortage we've faced in 10 to 20 years in the Atlanta Metropolitan area," Hillyer adds.
Even when the supply is good, blood banks have a tough time meeting the need. Every year in this country, the demand for blood products goes up. And unless more donors are found, this crisis could be just a hint of what lies ahead.
To donate blood, people must be healthy, at least 17 years old and weigh 110 pounds or more. To locate the nearest blood center or blood drive, call 1-800-GIVE LIFE or 1-888-BLOOD88.
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