Winter weather had already drained blood supplies in the Charlotte region, but last week’s snowstorm took an even deeper toll.
Icy roads kept many people at home for days – and away from donor centers.
The snowstorm caused something unprecedented to happen, Jennifer Clendenin, with the Charlotte-based Community Blood Center of the Carolinas, said on Saturday.
“We’ve never had two days in a row when we’ve been unable to collect a supply of blood or platelets,” she said. “Platelets have a shelf life of five days. With two days of no collections we’re looking at a pretty critical situation with the platelets.”
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The center lost about 700 units of blood because of the storm and issued an urgent plea for donors, extending hours this weekend at its donor centers in Charlotte, Concord, Gastonia and Hickory.
Describing the situation as “very, very critical,” Clendenin said until supplies of all types of blood stabilize in the next several weeks, “I’ll be holding my breath for a while.”
The Community Blood Center of the Carolinas is a nonprofit community-based blood center and the primary blood provider to 22 regional hospitals, serving 16 North Carolina and three South Carolina counties.
The American Red Cross reported that the Carolinas Blood Services Region had to cancel all of its blood drives last Wednesday and Thursday, and many drives on Friday, resulting in more than 3,100 uncollected blood and platelet donations. Nearly 30 blood drives were canceled just in the Charlotte area, resulting in a shortfall of more than 900 units.
The Red Cross Carolinas Blood Services Region provides blood to 103 hospitals, and needs to have 1,600 people give blood and platelets each weekday to meet hospital demand.
The Red Cross and the Uber transportation service are teaming up to offer free rides to and from Red Cross blood drives in Charlotte, beginning Monday and running through Feb. 28.
Blood donation wasn’t the only community cause hurt by the storm.
Some big charity fundraisers also were canceled, and the Urban Ministry’s Room in the Inn program saw some churches canceling their offer to host the homeless during the storm because they were unable to send vans to pick them up.
The homeless were instead directed to other shelters, including the overcrowded Salvation Army Center of Hope.
At the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas donor center in Charlotte, the doors opened Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and remained open until 5 p.m. with a steady flow of donors coming out. Each one got a free movie ticket, a practice that will continue through Feb. 28.
“We rely on local volunteers to come in and give willingly of their time to make sure patients in local hospitals ... have what they need,” Clendenin said. “We have amazing donors who truly understand the fact that by giving one hour they are saving up to three lives.”
On Saturday, Valerie Strong, 57, of Rock Hill, came by the Charlotte center to give blood.
“I have a heart condition and can’t do a lot of fundraisers,” she said. “I have to pick quiet things and this is quiet. Everybody can do this. It’s just a little needle prick or two. And the staff is phenomenal – they treat you like royalty.”
Strong, who works in administration at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was stuck at home during the storm. To pass time, she crocheted and listened to the constant beeping of a faulty smoke detector. Friends were coming over that afternoon to repair the smoke detector.
Meanwhile, Strong made time to donate blood because “I think this is really important and I like knowing I’m helping the community.”
Another donor, Joel Davis, 42, who works in the information technology field, recalled how he’d made it to the office during the snow.
“I slipped and slid in my little Civic,” the Charlotte resident said.
He planned to head back to the office and then maybe cash in his free movie ticket at a showing of “RoboCop.”
But Davis, who knew about the blood shortage, felt coming to the donor center was the most important thing on his schedule.
“I’m here, doing my part,” he said. “I’m glad to help.”
Staff writer Mark Price contributed.