REGION — Every week, Trinity Irvine and her 7-year-old daughter, Mia, make the drive from Oceanside to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego for the first grader’s weekly blood transfusions.
Since February when doctors’ discovered that Mia had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare disease overall but also the most common form of childhood cancer, Mia has received 27 blood transfusions.
And since leukemia is a type of cancer found in blood and bone marrow, Mia’s chemotherapy eradicates a lot of good white and red blood cells along with cancerous cells. Currently, the young girl requires two bags, or about two pints, of blood each week.
So far Mia hasn’t had any interruptions with her frequent blood transfusions, but others like local 5-year-old Karina Willis who is also battling childhood leukemia have had to wait for transfusions in recent weeks due to a regional as well as a nationwide shortage of blood donations.
Over the summer, the American Red Cross reported there was a severe blood shortage throughout the nation.
Normally the San Diego Blood Bank (SDBB) is prepared for a smaller supply of blood during the summer and winter months when high schools and colleges are on break. A large portion of blood donations come from blood drives held at regional high schools and colleges.
What the bank didn’t necessarily expect was to see that shortage continue into fall this year when most students have returned to campus in person. According to Claudine Van Gonka, SDBB director of communications, many of this season’s blood drives have been canceled at schools due to fear of spreading COVID-19 and the delta variant.
“These canceled drives are costing us hundreds of pints,” Van Gonka said.
Typically the blood bank likes to keep a 7-day supply of all blood types, but currently, the bank only has a 2-day supply of blood. In the event of a major disaster where multiple blood transfusions could be needed, there wouldn’t be enough for everyone.
“Even if everyone went to donate then and there, the victims of such an event wouldn’t receive that blood because it takes days for blood to go through tests and get ready for the shelves,” Van Gonka said.
Not only that but there are already many patients like Mia Irvine and Karina Willis who depend on regular blood transfusions to survive.
The San Diego Blood Bank has been working to spread the word about the blood shortage in an effort to attract more donors. To ensure that everyone is protected against COVID-19, the bank requires all staff, donors and visitors to wear face coverings regardless of vaccination status. Those who have been vaccinated for coronavirus can also still donate.
Van Gonka said the bank has also been working to clear up some misconceptions about blood donations.
“We’ve gotten questions about recipients contracting COVID-19 through donated blood, but there is absolutely no known risk of that,” Van Gonka said. “Respiratory viruses aren’t known to be transferred that way.”
After someone donates, their blood is sent to labs for several tests to make sure it can be used on someone else.
Currently, the blood bank is in need of more individuals with either blood types 0+ or 0-. The most common blood type is 0+, meanwhile, 0- transfusions can be used with any other blood type.
Kristi Kellogg of Vista has been routinely donating blood since February after she found out she and her husband both carried COVID antibodies. The two have donated convalescent plasma, double red cells and whole blood transfusions.
There are four different types of blood donations: whole blood, which is the standard blood donation; double red cells, which is about twice the amount of blood being collected as a whole blood transfusion; platelets, which are a component of blood often used in cancer patients going through chemotherapy; and plasma, which is often used to help burn and trauma patients as well as those with liver disease or cancer.
Kellogg tries to donate directly to children in need of blood transfusions like Mia, to whom she donated blood earlier this month. Kellogg learned about Mia through her sister, who works with Mia’s father.
Now, Kellogg has family all the way in Texas who are planning to donate directly to Mia as well.
“I have a child too, and if my child were sick, I would want everyone and their brothers to donate,” Kellogg said. “That’s what’s saving their lives.”
For now, Mia’s mother, blood donor and the blood bank where she gets her supply are all hoping to see more donors come forward in the next few weeks to prevent further delays in treatments or surgeries and to keep the supply well stocked.
“You don’t know until you’re in these shoes how important it is to donate blood,” Trinity Irvine said. “Blood can’t be created in a lab yet, so without donors taking an hour or so out of their day to donate, these children and other patients wouldn’t be here.”
Those who want to donate can check out https://www.mysdbb.org/donor/auth/signin for a complete schedule of upcoming regional blood drives or find a donor center near them to schedule an appointment.