EVERETT — It was a normal work day in May when Vintage Cafe owner Jim Staniford felt a pain in his lower abdomen.
The ache wasn’t excruciating, but it was enough to be too irritating to keep working. He headed home around 2:30 p.m., cutting his work day short.
He popped some Advil and lay down. Coming home early was a rare occurrence for the downtown Everett business owner, so his wife knew something was wrong. She called 911. He was taken by ambulance to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
By the time he arrived at the hospital, the pain had become severe.
“This really (expletive) hurts,” he said, before passing out in the hospital emergency room.
Staniford’s aorta, the main artery that delivers blood to the body, had burst inside his abdomen. In medical terms, it is referred to as an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The initial abdominal pain had been a small amount of blood leaking into his stomach preceding the rupture.
Staniford needed six pints of blood: three during his emergency surgery and three in the days following. Adult humans have between eight and 12 pints in their body — about 8% of one’s weight.
These days a critical blood shortage around the nation is worrisome for local hospitals trying to treat patients like Staniford who need emergency transfusions. Blood collection agencies are sounding the alarm as they are unable to meet the growing need.
Warmer weather and a reopening state after an almost 18-month pandemic lockdown means fewer people are donating blood as they go on vacation and engage in other pre-pandemic activities. Low donor turnout comes amid an existing low supply following the region’s heat wave which forced many blood drives to shut down.
A dip in donations during the summer months is normal, but the need for blood is increasing as hospitals are seeing more elective surgeries that may have been postponed during the pandemic and a higher number of trauma cases, both of which require blood transfusions.
“It’s sort of a perfect storm right now,” Bloodworks Northwest spokesperson John Yeager said.
Transfusion rates are the highest they have been in the past five years, Yeager said.
In the last three months, the American Red Cross supplied 75,000 more blood products than expected to hospitals around the region, including platelets, plasma and whole blood.
The American Red Cross and Bloodworks Northwest are two nonprofit blood donation agencies serving Washington hospitals. Both organizations are urging donors to book appointments not only now, but continuously.
“This urgency we are having for folks to donate is today, it is next week, it is the week after,” American Red Cross spokeswoman Betsy Robertson said. “We are really encouraging folks to keep their schedules open and find an appointment that fits because this need is ongoing.”
To maintain a reliable blood supply for the region’s needs, around 1,000 donors are needed each day. Bloodworks Northwest needs 11,000 donors to register for open appointment slots by Labor Day.
Type O and type A blood donations are facing emergency low levels of less than a day’s supply. Type O negative can be given to recipients with any blood type, placing an even greater importance on donors with this blood type.
“In those moments when time is critical, doctors reach for type O blood,” Robertson said. “We put an additional emphasis on folks who are type O so they know how valuable their donation is.”
People are eligible to donate whether they have or have not received a COVID-19 vaccine. In most cases, there is no deferral time after receiving the vaccine, but knowing the manufacturer of the vaccine is needed in determining donor eligibility.
Edmonds resident Janet South, 66, was a steady blood donor many years ago before taking a prolonged break. A pop-up blood drive at the Edmonds Waterfront Center hosted by Bloodworks Northwest was a wake-up call for South. It was only a few miles from her home. She figured she had no excuse not to donate.
The Edmonds site is one of many pop-up drives around the state that are filling the void of Bloodworks Northwest’s traditional mobile and bus drives, which were cancelled to meet social distancing recommendations.
“Now that I’m not working I also have more time to volunteer and I think of the blood donation as sort of the same way as volunteering in the community,” South said. “I’m really glad to have started this routine again and I hope to keep it going for a long time. It’s valuable if you can give back to the community you are a part of.”
These days the American Red Cross is hoping incentives will lead to more donations, such as four-month subscriptions to Apple Music for new subscribers, a chance to win Apple tech packages and a VIP trip for two to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee.
“No matter who you are, you are a match for someone,” American Red Cross spokeswoman Abby Lutz said. “One blood donation can save up to three lives. That’s a really big impact one person can have.”
For Staniford, being in the hospital when his aorta burst, with doctors who could deliver emergency blood transfusions, saved his life. Around eight out of 10 people die from an abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture before they reach the hospital or during surgery due to quick and major blood loss.
Staniford doesn’t know who donated the blood that saved his life. While some blood collection agencies have optional thank you programs, the messages are anonymous with no identifying patient information.
“If I knew who it was I would probably give them a gift card for the Vintage Cafe,” he said. “Feed ‘em and keep their strength up so they can continue to donate blood.”
As for now, Staniford is ineligible to donate blood because it is too soon after receiving his transfusion. Once he is given the all-clear, he will go to a center and give back, he said.
“They do surgeries everyday so they need somebody’s blood all the time,” Staniford said. “I just got lucky there was enough for me.”
How to help
The American Red Cross and Bloodworks Northwest have donation centers and blood drives scheduled around Snohomish County. To donate, visit their websites or call their appointment line.
Hannah Sheil: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3463. Twitter @thehannahsheil