In December of 2003, Hollister resident Pat Davis was diagnosed with kidney failure and a heart murmur caused by her arthritis medication. She stayed in a hospital for two weeks, trying to recover, when doctors discovered Davis was sicker than they thought. She was told she had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells that are part of the body’s immune system.
“It was stage four—very aggressive, very deadly,” Davis told the Christian County Headliner News. “Four oncologists told me I could not and would not survive the cancer.”
Davis’s cancer is not curable, she said, but after 15 years, she’s still alive. She credits the transfusions she received, made possible by the people who donate.
“Blood is not made in a lab,” she said. “It has to come from another person.”
But that can mean trouble during the colder, wetter and often busier months, American Red Cross External Communications Manager Joe Zydlo said.
“Weather has that impact. Anytime it snows or the roads are iced over, people aren’t going to get out,” he said. “People aren’t thinking about going to donate blood during the holidays.”
It’s a problem Davis experienced first-hand. After she was diagnosed with cancer, her doctors sent her to stay at Mercy Hospital in Springfield for another four weeks. She received more than 30 transfusions of blood and platelets she wasn’t able to produce.
“My body just quit making it,” Davis said.
On two separate occasions, however, a nurse came into her room and told her not to move—there were no platelets left on hospital shelves. It was around this time of year, Davis said, after wintertime celebrations and during poor outdoor conditions.
“It was almost unbelievable,” Davis said. “It was like, ‘Wow, how does this happen?’ If you don’t have enough platelets, you could bleed to death—even with a scratch you could bleed to death.”
Zydlo said the American Red Cross services about 20 hospitals across the greater Ozarks area.
“We take care of our local needs first,” he said. “Then, if we have any type of surplus, we can send additional blood supply out nationally.”
The organization isn’t currently in a position to be so charitable, however. An emergency need for blood, Zydlo said, was issued Jan. 14
“We like to keep a five-day supply in case a disaster happens,” he explained. “Anytime it’s under a five-day supply, we will issue that.”
And when the donations come in, they can only last for so long before new supply is needed. Blood is perishable. It has a 42-day shelf life. Platelets have even less time before it’s a waste—only five days.
“People donate blood 1.8 times a year,” Zydlo told the Headliner News. “If we could get them to do it three times, we wouldn’t have these shortages.”
Zydlo said a number of blood drives have been planned across Christian County in the coming months. A person can donate every 56 days. They just need to be in good health.
“As long as you feel good, you’re eligible to donate,” Zydlo said. “If you achy, if you have a cough, we don’t want people to donate.”
As for Davis, she can no longer be a donor, but she often speaks on behalf of the American Red Cross to encourage people to give.
“Think about your family and what would happen if your child or grandchild or your parents or siblings came down with a sickness or were in a car wreck,” she said. “What happens if they need blood? Will there be blood available?”
Eligible donors can find a blood or platelet donation opportunity and schedule an appointment by downloading American Red Cross’s free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.
“I just want everybody to think about the blood that’s needed in hospitals,” Davis said.