Blood Donation | City of Hope

Critical need for blood donations as national supply runs low

Carol Ewins has been donating blood for more than 40 years. The retired bank account manager and grandmother of five regularly travels from her home in Covina, California, to City of Hope's Blood Donor Center, where she gets a warm welcome from the friendly staff and an even warmer feeling about the good she’s doing. To date, she’s donated more than 200 times, and she has no plans to slow down or stop.
“It makes me feel good,” she explained. “It’s my way of giving back.”
It’s giving of oneself, she continued. Providing a lifesaving product that cannot be obtained any other way. It’s impossible to manufacture blood, and there is no substitute for it.
 Most people associate hospital blood donations with acute situations, such as accidents and emergency surgeries. Few people realize that, as a cancer center, City of Hope requires vast amounts of blood and blood products just to maintain its normal level of patient care.
Watch the fascinating process as our scientists prepare donations for transfusion.
“City of Hope is not your typical hospital,” said Kasie Uyeno, manager of donor recruitment. “The treatments we provide — stem cell transplants, chemotherapy, radiation — all require a lot more transfusional support.”
That’s because cancer-fighting treatments destroy blood cells and compromise the immune system, leaving the patient critically dependent on donated blood and platelets (the cells that form clots) for days and even weeks at a time, until the treatment is completed.
It’s Uyeno’s job to make sure the blood bank never runs dry, a monumental balancing act under normal conditions, given that it takes more than 600 units per week (a unit is about one pint) and 35 platelet contributions each day just to ensure all regular needs are met.

Long-term storage to ease the daily demand is not an option. Whole blood has a shelf life of just a few weeks, platelets only a few days, so constant, ongoing replenishment is essential. Uyeno gets it done with help from her talented team and a wide network of donors — from City of Hope employees to so-called “superdonors” like Ewins — any number of whom could get the call at any time.
Then there’s always the emergency situation.
Jennifer Zuniga, directed donor coordinator, recalled a case from June 2021 in which the patient unexpectedly needed a large supply of  Type O blood during surgery. Tapping every available resource, inside and outside of City of Hope, six units were provided, and the need was met. But a second surgery, just a few weeks away, would require much more.
The patient’s husband rounded up relatives and friends and, with Zuniga’s help and coordination, 20 donors signed up. All went well.
Family and friends typically make up the primary source of donated blood. Every City of Hope patient is encouraged to reach out and recruit relatives. Often it’s an easy sell, because many loved ones are looking for a concrete way to help.
“When you have a relative who’s sick, you can feel so helpless,” said Zuniga. “But when you donate, it’s a great and unique way to help that person, or even another patient down the road.”
When necessary, City of Hope will purchase blood from outside vendors — usually the Red Cross — at considerable cost. But that assumes such vendors will have an ample supply. COVID-19 has put that in doubt.
“When the virus first hit, everyone came in to help. It was very reminiscent of 9/11,” said Uyeno, remembering fondly how her donor network responded to the early days of the virus.
Superdonor Ewins realized she’d be needed. “So I just stepped it up!” she said.
But three months into the pandemic, all the associated lockdowns took their toll. So did fear of catching the virus. Donations slowed to a trickle. And now, even though the country has slowly reopened, donations remain low, while their need is growing as patients emerge from isolation and resume their normal health care visits and routines.

As a result, the U.S. is struggling through a critical national blood shortage. The Red Cross advises that its supplies are at their lowest levels since 2015. “We can’t even purchase platelets anymore,” lamented Uyeno. “The need has never been greater. The pandemic has thrown everything off kilter.”
Without a ready supply of blood and blood products, many hospitals may be forced to delay surgeries and other treatments. Others may resort to doling out “half-units” as a less-than-ideal stopgap measure. City of Hope goes to great lengths to avoid such extreme measures, using sophisticated recruitment tools. “We can target recruitment to exactly what our patients need,” said Uyeno. “City of Hope is unique in this regard.” Nevertheless, the sooner supplies return to prepandemic levels, the better for everyone.
No one should worry about COVID-19 exposure when donating at City of Hope. “We closely follow all the CDC guidelines,” said Uyeno. “We’re all masked. We maintain 6 feet of social distance. This is a safe community. Safe to donate. Safe to ask questions. We’re here for you.”
Donating whole blood takes about an hour, including paperwork. You can do it every 56 days, or about six times a year. Donating platelets (as “superdonor” Ewins and many others prefer) takes longer — about two hours — but you can come back every two weeks. Either way, the City of Hope team goes out of its way to show its appreciation.
“We have a great staff,” Zuniga said. “The donor room is an open space where we’ll make you feel warm, comfortable and entertained.” Frequent donors end up making friends with each other, turning their visits into social occasions.
But the bottom line is always the same: Everyone in that room is a hero.
“So please keep giving,” said Uyeno. “It’s a great feeling to save lives!”

Give Blood Or Platelets. Give Life. Give Today. 

Did you know, our patients — most of whom are fighting cancer — rely on more than 37,000 units of blood and platelets each year for their survival? And every one of those units comes from people like you, family, friends and other caring people who want to make a difference.
Blood donations save lives every day at City of Hope. By becoming a donor, you'll be helping cancer patients going through the most challenging health crisis of their lives. A little of your time could mean a lifetime for another.