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Utah's critical blood shortage delays elective surgeries

David Beverly, 31, left, and father Peter Beverly, 59, right, had their live-donation organ transplant procedure delayed because of a national and statewide blood shortage.

David Beverly, 31, left, and father Peter Beverly, 59, right, had their live-donation organ transplant procedure delayed because of a national and statewide blood shortage. (David Beverly)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man intending to donate a piece of his liver to his father was forced to sideline his generosity because of a national and local shortage of blood.

David Beverly, 31, was supposed to donate a piece of his liver on June 29 to his 59-year-old father Peter Beverly who suffers from nonalcoholic liver disease.

With the anticipated surgery now pushed to July 27, he may not be fully recovered by the time his wife gives birth to their third child, a baby girl, meaning he won't be able to fully take care of her or their two sons.

"It was stunning. I was in quarantine all weekend, and then we got a call the day before," he said. "I 100% understand, but it's hard to believe that we are that critically low."

Elective surgeries like his — surgeries that can still be life-saving but don't require emergency attention in scheduling — are being delayed at many hospitals across the state because there simply is not enough blood saved up to ensure blood lost during the surgeries could be replaced.

Dr. Ram Nirula, chief of the division of general surgery at University of Utah Health said that he had never seen this kind of shortage before.

"Every other month, we're getting notifications that blood storages are low," he said, adding that there are many reasons behind the short supply.

The increase of state population during the COVID-19 pandemic, a backlog of surgeries that were delayed during the pandemic, the amount of activity increasing now that places are opening back up, a higher number of traumas because of that increase in activity, and low resources at community hospitals are all contributing to blood that is less available.

"I really have not seen a perfect storm like this before," Dr. Rob Ferguson, senior medical director of surgical operations at Intermountain Healthcare, said on Tuesday. "We anticipate that through the summer that this will be a concern that will be a background stress."

There was a blood shortage in Utah over a year ago because people did not want to risk contracting the COVID-19 virus by donating blood. While donations have gone back up, they are not quite at the level they were before the pandemic.


I really have not seen a perfect storm like this before. We anticipate that through the summer that this will be a concern that will be a background stress.

–Dr. Rob Ferguson


According to ARUP Blood Services, they typically have 75 to 100 donors a day at the blood center, but now they are averaging 50 to 60 a day.

"We have one mission — to collect enough blood to support local hospitals," said Deborah Johnson, community relations supervisor at ARUP.

But in order for that to happen, she said, people around the state need to donate blood at staggered times throughout the summer because blood can't be stored for long periods of time.

"This need is real. And it's something we need to have in the moment we need it," Benjamin Donner, the executive director at the American Red Cross of Utah, said.

Donner mentioned that he once suffered trauma that sent him to the ER where he received four units of blood that saved his life. He can't imagine what the impact would have been on his kids if people had not donated that blood.

"This is a critical shortage that we as a population have to participate in rectifying," Nirula said.

More blood donations are also needed to backfill for the future. The American Red Cross of Utah aims to have five days of blood stored at a time, but they are currently at less than a half day's supply.

"I'm sending everyone I talk to to go donate blood," David Beverly said. "Dust off those donor cards and go donate blood. I'd love to be able to do this so my boys and incoming daughter can have a grandfather to look up to in the coming years."

Blood donation information

ARUP

To find a blood donation center, schedule a donation appointment, or organize a blood drive, visit the ARUP website or call 801-584-5272.

American Red Cross of Utah

To find an American Red Cross blood donation center, donate funds, get a blood donation guide, or become a blood donor ambassador volunteer, visit the American Red Cross website or download the Blood Donor app.

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