KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In light of National Blood Donor Month this January, 13 state representatives from Kansas and Missouri kicked off the #GiveLifeKC campaign.
Partnering with the Community Blood Center, state leaders are hoping to spread awareness about the dire need for blood donations and recruit more donors.
The unprecedented blood shortage in the region, as well as nationwide, has lasted almost two years as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While blood supplies waned even before the pandemic, experts say they have never seen supplies plummet to these levels.
The Community Blood Center provides 90% of the blood used by over 60 hospitals throughout the Greater Kansas City area, as well as eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
Currently, the blood bank only has a three to four-day blood supply, well below the seven-day supply they would like to see, with only a two to three-day supply of type O blood.
According to Outreach and Communications Coordinator Chelsea Smith, blood transfusions at area hospitals picked back up in 2021 after many elective surgeries that were put on hold resumed. Now blood donations are struggling to catch up to the demand.
“We’re one large trauma away from being completely wiped out of our blood supply in Kansas City,” Smith said. “In 2020, they were having to wait for their chemo treatments. That’s how serious it is.”
With the current surge of COVID-19 cases, mass blood drives are being canceled left and right. With 70% of donations coming from large events at businesses, churches and schools, going virtual directly affects supply.
“When they elect to work from home or virtual learning, it directly impacts our ability to hold blood drives with them,” Smith said.
On top of that, widespread misconceptions are hindering people from donating.
“A lot of people assume donating blood will weaken their immune system. That is absolutely not the case,” Smith said. “If you have received Moderna, Johnson and Johnson or Pfizer, there is absolutely no deferral for you to come in and donate blood.”
The blood bank along with advocates have been working with the Food and Drug Administration to grant more of the population the eligibility to give. Kansas state Rep. Brandon Woodard is hoping he can be a part of that change.
“I, in 2018, was elected as the first openly gay man in the Kansas Legislature, and because of that, I’m not able to donate blood,” Woodard said.
The FDA shortened the deferral for gay and bisexual men from one year to three months in June 2020. But Woodard says that is not enough.
As a part of the campaign, donors can pick up a colorful postcard at the blood centers and send their support to the FDA calling for a change to the eligibility rules.
“My biggest concern is that, quite frankly, people are gonna die,” said Missouri state Rep. Patty Lewis.
She spearheaded the #GiveLifeKC campaign, and as a retired nurse, its purpose is personal.
“I worked in ICU, critical care and trauma centers. So I saw first hand the impact blood transfusions do to patients and how it saves lives,” Lewis said.
For donor Bailey Whitehaus, who aspires to work in healthcare, she encourages people to focus on the greater good.
“If you’re gonna sit at home on the couch and watch TV, then you can sit here in one of their chairs and watch TV,” Whitehaus said. “Even if you have a small adverse reaction, the benefits outweigh the risk because you’re going to be helping so many people.”
Donors can donate at any of the Community Blood Center’s seven locations in Kansas City, Overland Park, Olathe, Blue Springs, Gladstone, St. Joseph and Topeka.
For January, staff is also offering free Chiefs t-shirts with every donation.