Blood shortage causing surgery delays

South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, University Health System need donors

SAN ANTONIO – A blood shortage has led to delayed surgeries, according to the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center.

The normal summer shortage has been compounded by complications with the Zika virus, a spokesperson for the Blood and Tissue Center said. As a result, she said the center had heard of at least a few local surgeries that had to be postponed because of lack of blood.

"One of them was for a young man who had leukemia," spokesperson Julie Vera said. "He was expecting to have a blood transfusion one morning. He went in and was told the blood supply simply wasn't there."

Summer's already a hard time for donations, but concerns about Zika mean people returning from vacation in areas affected by the virus have to wait 28 days before donating.

"We instituted those FDA guidelines in March and up to this point, (there have been) nearly 1,000 donors we've had to turn away," Vera said.

The resulting shortage has meant delays. In the case of the patient with leukemia, it was a few hours, but it was a delay nonetheless.

Staff at University Hospital said they haven't had to delay any surgeries yet, but that could be around the bend since they're facing a shortage of Type O-negative blood.

University faces similar donation problems to the Blood and Tissue Center, but that O-negative blood is especially important when they don't know a patient's blood type, as in the case of a trauma.

"O-negative is a rare blood type," said Dr. Leslie Greebon, the University Health System's Interim director of Medical Transfusion Services. "It's the universal donor, so it's basically liquid gold."

If the hospitals don't get enough donations going forward, Greebon said elective surgeries — anything from planned C-sections to gall bladder removals — could be delayed.

"When you think that you're the patient and you've been scheduled four months in advance to have some surgery, or even two weeks in advance, and you're in pain and you want your gall bladder out, it's going to be an inconvenience to come back in two weeks when we have enough donors to support it," Greebon said.

Both the University Health System and Southwest Texas Blood and Tissue Center are asking for donations. University is asking specifically for Type O-negative blood. People can donate at either location below: 

University Hospital
Third Floor - Blood Donor Room
4502 Medical Drive
San Antonio, TX 78229
South Texas Blood and Tissue Center
Donor Pavilion
6211 First Park Ten
San Antonio, TX 78213  

According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Other facts about blood needs include: 

  • Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.
  • Nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S.
  • Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S. 

All volunteer blood donors must be evaluated to determine their eligibility to give blood to ensure the safety of the donor and recipient.

The American Red Cross says blood donors must:

  • Be in good general health and feeling well.
  • Be at least 17-years-old in most states, or 16-years-old with parental consent if allowed by state law.
  • Weigh at least 110 lbs. (Additional weight requirements apply for donors 18-years-old and younger and all high school donors.) 

Each donor receives a brief examination during which temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin (or hematocrit) are measured.

The final determination will be made on the day of the donation at the blood drive or blood donation center. People who have been deferred from donating in the past can donate again.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.