Expecting the Unexpected
Last week, the Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability (ACBTSA), which reports to the Undersecretary for Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, met to discuss the sustainability of the U.S. blood supply. Among the concerns was the worry that a shrinking blood inventory and collection system, appropriate to the reduced level of routine red cell blood use, would not be able to provide appropriate surge capacity.
Later that same week, the terrorist attacks in Paris provided all-too-real and graphic examples of why we need a robust blood reserve. As far as I have been able to determine from news reports and the statements of the French blood agency, all the urgent needs were met from current blood inventories.
Almost simultaneously, it seems, many, many people came spontaneously to donate blood at collection centers across France, as shown in this CNN clip. The number of those presenting to donate was estimated at 10,000, and one-fifth were new donors. Fadila Benayache, a young woman who was donating, told CNN, "I was just thinking … What can I do?"
We have had large-scale public blood collection programs only since WWII, less than 75 years. Yet a substantial number of the public has adopted blood donation as a way to give back. In the face of terrorist attacks, such as those that occurred last week in Paris and in the U.S. on 9/11, donation offers some people a way to feel they are helping in the face of a seemingly helpless situation. The instinct to help others is a very strong one, and we must make sure our programs continue to support that sensibility in ordinary circumstances through ordinary everyday blood donations.
The French collection agencies immediately scheduled collections to later days. Our specialized collection programs based on blood type and specific hospital needs are efficient and successful only as long as we continue to allow that donor to feel the connection between his gift and the recipient. When the potential recipient is bloody and smeared across the TV screen, this connection is not hard to make; in ordinary circumstances the connection may be less clear.
We know that it is the blood already on the shelf, in the hospitals, or even carried on ambulances, that saves lives first, in the most urgent situations. As a country, we need to make sure that we have this reserve always available, and that we also have the capacity to collect and process blood more quickly should the need arise. We can see that our donors will be ready. It is an important part of the work of the ACBTSA subcommittee and all of us to make sure we as blood centers are ready as well.
Susan Rossmann, MD, PhD; Board President; firstname.lastname@example.org