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Red Cross May Have to Destroy Donated Blood

Refrigerators storing thousands of units malfunctioned and kept supplies too cold.

September 16, 2003|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

The Southern California region of the American Red Cross may be forced to destroy blood donations from as many as 3,500 people -- including many collected at Sept. 11 blood drives -- because refrigerators malfunctioned and kept the units too cold, officials said Monday.

A national review board of the Red Cross is expected to decide the fate of the blood today. In the meantime, the units have been set aside and are not available for use, said regional spokeswoman Julie Juliusson.

"It's just devastating to us," she said. "You know how perilous the blood supply is."

The Red Cross supplies at least half of the blood used in the Southern California region, officials said. The quarantined blood is enough to cover about three days' worth of the amount the local Red Cross typically distributes.

The Red Cross has informed hospitals that it would greatly restrict the amount of blood it can provide, and suggested that hospitals may need to delay elective surgeries.

Representatives of several dozen local hospitals, however, said Monday that they had no plans to cancel or delay surgeries or other procedures. They say patient care has not suffered.

"Acquiring the blood has been a challenge, but they've had it when they've needed it," Chad Burns, a spokesman for Catholic Healthcare West, said of the chain's six hospitals in Los Angeles County.

Some hospital representatives said they rely on in-house blood banks and other vendors to avoid the ebb and flow of blood donations to the Red Cross.

Tim Smith, the blood donor recruitment coordinator at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, said the hospital provides 40% to 50% of its blood needs. UCLA Medical Center's in-house blood bank supplies 50% to 60%.

"We expect that the worst of the shortage for us will be coming in the next couple of days," said Priscilla Figueroa, director of transfusion medicine at UCLA Medical Center. "Fortunately, we have a blood donor center of our own."

Juliusson of the Red Cross traced the problems to the malfunctioning of two new refrigerators at the organization's Irvine facility.

For six hours Friday morning, the blood was stored several degrees below the recommended range (1 to 6 degrees Celsius).

George Garratty, scientific director for the local Red Cross group, said he personally doesn't think the lower temperatures harmed the blood, but there's scarce research on the topic.

"Everybody is just trying to be as conservative as possible and not run any risks at all," he said.

Without the quarantined blood, the Red Cross had only 42 units of O-negative blood as of late Monday, compared with the desired inventory of 700 units.

The Red Cross had 150 units of O-positive blood, far short of the 1,400-unit goal. Type O blood is considered the most desirable because it can be transfused into people with any blood type.

Juliusson said the 3,500 units represent the group's full collections from two to three days.

Some 1,560 units were collected Sept. 11, and many had already been transferred to the Irvine facility.

The Southern California Red Cross already relies on other regions to provide about 40% of the blood it needs. It has received extra help this week from offices in Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon.

But, with Hurricane Isabel expected to hit the East Coast later this week, Juliusson worries that those regions will have to send supplies elsewhere because blood collection will be impaired by the storm.

Juliusson said the refrigeration problems did not affect the plasma or platelets from the 3,500 units of blood because those are stored separately.

To arrange to donate blood, call (800) GIVE-LIFE.


Times staff writer Tracy Weber contributed to this report.

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