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Answering the call

Drive draws donors, issues of durability

Phlebotomist Sara Garceau of Southbridge logs in a donor (this reporter) at the Charlton blood drive Tuesday. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
August 24, 2010
CHARLTON — Around 50 people trooped up the third-floor stairs of the library Tuesday to add their pints of blood to the region's supply.

But while that helps fill what's often described as a nationwide shortage, recent studies have found that blood's useful shelf life may not be as long as has been previously believed.

"I feel that people need help and the more people that give blood, the more help there is," said one donor who identified herself as Wendy. She has done so "three or four times," largely because her husband does it regularly, and believes it would be easier for parents like her if the sites offered childcare.

According to Carolann LaTour, one of the nurses managing Tuesday's collection, blood from this area goes to the Red Cross center in Dedham for lab tests (some are done elsewhere). Those take 24-48 hours, after which the blood is shipped to various hospitals and storage sites "provided there's not an issue. Even if one signature doesn't look right on a piece of paperwork, it can hold up the process," she said.

From that point, use varies a lot, but the Red Cross website notes that around 10 percent of hospital admissions get a transfusion. With more than 38,000 people using an average of 3 pints a day per transfusion, that's nearly 42 million pints of blood per year.

For several years, though, researchers have been wondering two key things — whether some people are getting unnecessary transfusions and how good those transfusions actually are.

The former, older debate typically swirls around a medical concept called the "transfusion trigger" point — a measure of hemoglobin (the blood's oxygen-bearing molecule) concentration. In 2001, Dr. Byron Myhre of Harbor UCLA Medical Center in California wrote doctors have been reducing this number over time (and thereby transfusing less often), in part because it was previously "based on little scientific data and took little account of the patient's condition." In cases of "significant" blood loss, "there is little question that sooner or later" it's necessary, but other factors can play a role in determining when and how much.

See Thursday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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