It started with a blood drive at a hospital 12 years ago.
Tracy Higgins donated blood and from that point on, “It just seemed like the right thing to do,” the 66-year-old Crystal Lake resident said. She now donates four to five times a year.
“People need to understand how important it is for the hospitals to have a continuous source of good blood,” Higgins said. “People always want to react when there is an emergency, but it is a continual need.”
Residents such as Higgins are needed both nationally and locally to make up for a blood shortage caused by unpredictable weather, an early influenza outbreak and a continuing sluggish economy.
McHenry County is within the American Red Cross Heart of America blood services region, which encompasses Illinois, eastern Iowa and parts of Missouri. For the past two years, the region had collected about 118,000 pints of blood a year.
Blood shortages occurred after hundreds of blood drives were canceled on the East Coast in November because of superstorm Sandy, said Ben Corey, program manager at the American Red Cross in Peoria. But because of an outpouring of support, the American Red Cross blood supply quickly was replenished after the storm.
Those who donated blood or platelets in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy may be eligible again to give, Corey said. There is a push to donate in January, which is National Blood Donor Month.
“National Blood Donor Month comes at an opportune time, as January can be an especially challenging month to collect donations due to inclement weather and seasonal illnesses,” he said. “Right now, all blood types are needed to maintain a sufficient blood supply.”
Blood types O negative and B negative are especially needed because its use in hospitals outpaces donations. In addition, about 44,000 pints of blood are needed each day at hospitals across the United States to treat cancer patients, trauma victims, organ transplant recipients and sickle-cell disease patients, among others.
Red blood cells have a shelf life of 42 days and platelets five days.
The recent surge in influenza cases nationally and locally is affecting blood organizations that depend on healthy donors to stay ahead of demand.
Flu season typically runs through May, with activity peaking in January and into February, according to the McHenry County Department of Health.
Since the end of December, 11 people with the flu have been hospitalized in area intensive care units.
Local hospital emergency departments also have seen a sharp increase in influenza-like illness, reporting 21 cases in November, 102 cases in December and 53 cases the first week of January.
The Rock River Valley Blood Center depends on donors from Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Ogle and Stephenson counties, as well as Rock County, Wis.
The organization took in 24 percent less in blood in December than it did in December 2011, and 3 percent less in platelets.
“It’s a very challenging time because of inclement weather, the flu season and a demographic in this area that heads south for the winter,” said Jennifer Bowman, spokeswoman for Rock River Valley.
Officials fear that as more businesses are faced with employees ill with the flu, they will be less likely to host blood drives, Bowman said. Snow days at local schools also affect supply because high school blood drives represent 10 percent of the organization’s supply.
Heartland Blood Centers, which serves 47 hospitals in a 12-county area, including Kane and McHenry counties, saw a 6 percent decrease in donations in 2012 compared with the previous year.
Officials attribute the downturn in donations to the economy and flu.
“We need healthy community members to donate,” said Jill Bernard, mobile recruitment director at Heartland. “The decrease is across the board.”
The organization needs 650 blood donations daily this year to come out ahead, which includes 174,000 units of blood needed to accommodate its service areas.
Upcoming blood drives
America Red Cross of Greater Chicago - www.redcross.org or 800-733-2767:
• 2 to 7 p.m. Monday at Faith Lutheran High School, 174 McHenry Ave., Crystal Lake.
Heartland Blood Centers - www.heartlandbc.org or 800-786-4483:
• 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Resurrection Catholic Church, 2918 S. Country Club Road, Woodstock.
• 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at McHenry County Government Center, 2200 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock.
LifeSource Mobile Blood Drive - www.lifesource.org or 877-543-3768:
• Noon to 4:30 p.m. Monday at Barrington Middle School – Station Campus, 215 Eastern Ave., Barrington.
• 7:30 a.m. 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Prairie Ridge High School, 6000 Dvorak Drive, Crystal Lake.
• 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 2 at Raymond Chevrolet, 39 N. Route 12, Fox Lake.
• 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 10 at St. Margaret Mary Ministry Center, 111 S. Hubbard St., Algonquin.
Rock River Valley Blood Center - www.rrvbc.org or 815-965-8751:
• 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at Emeritus at Rockford, 1545 Temple Lane, Rockford.
• 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mercy Harvard Hospital, 901 Grant St., Harvard.