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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Blood supply rises with students' return

Addie Grikstas couldn't stand to look at the needle. But knowing of Gainesville's more than week-long critical blood shortage, Grikstas turned her head, extended her arm and waited for the prick.

"I'd like to think if I was in an accident people would come out and help me," she said, squeezing a squishy yellow ball as blood drained from her arm. "Hopefully, what goes around comes around."

The senior health education and behavior major is one of at least 65 people who gave blood on campus Thursday in response to the shortage.

The number was more than double LifeSouth Community Blood Centers' donation goal for the day, which was 30 units. But student donors exceeded their expectations.

"I've never been so glad to see college students in my life," said Christine Evans, community development coordinator for LifeSouth. "We really needed them."

With the city's student population greatly diminished and residents less willing to give blood in the summer heat, Gainesville's blood supply sunk to lower than a one-day supply Aug. 16. The shortage, which prompted LifeSouth to issue an emergency call for blood, highlighted the importance of student donors.

"For some blood types we had only six, seven and eight units," Evans said.

Evans estimates that 25 to 35 percent of blood is donated by UF students. In the fall and spring, LifeSouth collects nearly 50 units a day on campus. In the summer, that number falls to below 10.

An emergency call for blood is issued when supply at the center is too low to adequately stock area hospitals. Demand for blood is common in June and July, but need this summer remained low until it spiked unexpectedly last week.

"We thought we had dodged that bullet, but our reserves became basically depleted last week," Evans said.

Supply levels for types O positive, O negative, A negative and B negative remained critically low Thursday, but the area is still suffering from a shortage for all types.

"We are lucky this shortage didn't happen a few weeks ago when there wasn't light at the end of the tunnel," Evans said. "Students contribute a huge amount of blood to this community, and we get so much support from the University of Florida. So many student organizations encourage their members to give blood."

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LifeSouth supplies blood to 39 medical centers in North Central Florida, Evans said. Donation centers in surrounding areas experienced similar shortages and could not be called on for reserves. In response to the shortage, LifeSouth dispensed fliers locally and extended its donation hours. Bloodmobiles targeted retail locations where flocks of students and parents shopped for school supplies. No patients were denied blood and no surgeries were canceled as a result of the shortage, said J.D. Pettyjohn, a district manager for LifeSouth.

But Pettyjohn acknowledged the close call.

"If we had a major surgery, where a patient would have needed 50 to 60 units, we would not have been able to supply them," he said.

Evans said shortages such as these could be prevented if people donated habitually. The average donor gives blood once a year, and if that number doubled, shortages could be eliminated, she said.

Grikstas has donated blood seven times in the past 14 months, as often as the center allowed.

"It's just a five-second pain," she said. "Saving lives is worth it."

LifeSouth donation centers are located at 1221 NW 13th St. and 4039 Newberry Rd. Bloodmobiles will be at three campus locations today.

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