March 6, 2019

UChicago Medicine Increases Calls for Blood Donations

Courtesy of University of Chicago

The UChicago Medicine Blood Donation Center recently increased calls for blood donations from the Hyde Park community and the greater South Side area. In collaboration with the UChicago Blood Donor Ambassadors, the Blood Donation Center has been engaged in several community outreach efforts to raise awareness of the importance of donations for local residents and to set up blood drives at multiple locations to accommodate potential donors.

“The need for blood is always there,” says Nhu Pham, the manager of the blood bank and donor services. “Especially here. We have recently become a Level 1 trauma center. We take trauma cases, gunshot wounds, people who bleed massively.”

The increased need for blood supply has been a persistent issue since UChicago Medicine became a Level 1 adult trauma center in 2018. “It’s the most comprehensive trauma surgery that you can have,” said Dr. Chancey Christenson, who is the associate director of the Blood Center and also works at the transfusion medicine department. “By virtue of, sort of where we are, we are the third highest level of penetrating trauma center in the country.”

According to Pham, the Blood Center has been trying to broaden its presence among local residents because they will ultimately be the most immediate beneficiaries of these donations in the case of a health emergency. “The need to be recognized in the community is more because the blood that’s collected in the donor room stays within the community. We do not export our blood out to any other hospitals, so whatever is collected here, we use them,” says Pham.

Aviva Klein, a third-year student who is the current president of the UChicago Blood Donor Ambassadors program, believes that the University and the hospital have a special place in the community. “A lot of what I learned is that it’s more common for minorities to have negative reactions during blood transfusions because the majority of people who donate blood are actually Caucasian. This is kind of what the Blood Center does especially for the communities that are mostly African-American, who are given blood transfusions for things like sickle cell anemia.”

She added, “Those are the people who get transfusion on a regular basis. Besides, the Trauma Center has really shot up our need for blood. We have always had a very high baseline purely because of the communities we serve.”

Currently, the main supplier of blood for the hospital is the American Red Cross. The hospital relies heavily on the organization, whose Peoria headquarters are about a three-hour drive away from the University, according to Dr. Christenson. “If we can get blood, it can come from nationwide, and that’s fine and that’s fair. But we like when people come and donate because then it’s like they’re directly helping their friends and neighbors.”

Klein says that a general misconception among the people who donate to Red Cross is that they often think that the blood directly ends up at the hospital. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that we buy blood from the Red Cross. Red Cross has a bus that comes around the campus a lot and people donate there, thinking that it’s coming to us. But it’s not necessarily. And if it does, we have to buy the blood back. I think one unit is about $500 so that’s the cost that we could save by having people donate.”

Cold weather conditions also play a significant role in the low donor turnout. “Every year around winter there’s just a lot of blood drive cancellations. People are less likely to come out to donate. It creates a critical shortage besides the holidays.”

The UChicago Blood Donor Ambassadors have been trying to save time and energy for their potential donors by trying to set up local blood drives at multiple different locations. “If people just don’t want to walk to the hospital, at least there can be some place that’s close to them that they can go. Recently, we have been trying to build blood drives in places like the Law School and the Lab School. I made a connection with a church that is 20 minutes away and they have blood drives there. We’re trying to build partnerships with local businesses, so we can also have more appealing incentives.”

While the Blood Center is increasing its efforts to reach out to other areas in South Side, they are also trying to improve the level participation on UChicago’s campus. “We also would like to begin more exposure within the UChicago campus itself because there are so many departments and buildings as well. So far, we only had about less than 10 percent of campus in terms of collection.”

The Scavenger Hunt sponsored by the Donor Room at the Blood Center and blood collection is a part of campus Scav every year.

“You know, we used to do ‘Scav’ all the time. The numbers have fallen a little bit for the Scavenger Hunt. Even just to get people to remember that we are part of the Scavenger Hunt would be good,” Dr. Christenson said.

Emphasizing the need for more donations from campus, Pham says that platelet donations, in addition to normal blood donations, also play a critical role in the Blood Center’s mission. Platelets are mainly used to stop bleeding in cases of cancer patients and babies in the NICU (newborn intensive care unit), who are not able to develop their own platelets.

“Normally a unit of blood platelet, from the time of collection to exploration, is five days. It takes about two days to finish all the required testing. So, a unit of platelet only has three days.” Pham said.

“If we can get more people to donate, so we have more flexibility to how we give blood, we would really mitigate some unnecessary complications that needn’t be worried about,” says Klein. “No doctor should worry about ‘Oh, do I have to call in my order of this blood, you know, far enough in advance, to make sure we can order it from the Red Cross in time.’ That should not be complicating things any further. Small things that shouldn’t be in the process.”

The Blood Donation Center is located at the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine at 5758 South Maryland Avenue. It is open from Monday through Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.