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Improperly Stored Blood Is Barred From Use in Humans

Loss devastates Red Cross reserve supply. Some hospitals may delay surgeries while others have own banks.

September 19, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

More than 3,500 pints of blood donated to the Southern California region of the American Red Cross will be barred for use in humans due to refrigerator malfunctions and will be confined to medical research -- a development that has devastated Red Cross blood reserves, a spokeswoman said.

"This is the worst thing to happen in this region in 50-plus years of service," Red Cross spokeswoman Julie Juliusson said. "This is a major blow."

Loss of the blood leaves the Southern California Red Cross with 1,200 available units of blood, less than a full day's supply. And the meager reserve, officials say, will not be replenished soon because Hurricane Isabel has caused the national agency to reroute its blood supply to the East Coast.

The Red Cross supplies at least half of the blood used in Southern California.

Hospitals that rely heavily on the Red Cross for blood may be forced to postpone elective surgery for some patients.

However, larger hospitals that have their own blood bank programs or who buy blood from other sources say the shortage will have little impact on them.

"We've only had a small number of hospitals say they might have problems meeting elective surgery schedules next week," said Jim Lott, vice president of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California. "Most others have in-house programs."

David Langness, a spokesman for Tenet Health Care Corp., said the shortage might cause surgery delays for some of its 32 medical facilities in Southern California, but that was not yet clear.

"Most of our hospitals have their own blood banks," Langness said. "The ones that don't will be helped by the ones that do, and we'll also buy blood from other suppliers."

Problems with the Red Cross blood have been traced to malfunctions of two new refrigerators at its Irvine facility.

For six hours Friday morning, the blood was stored several degrees below the recommended range.

George Garratty, scientific director for the local Red Cross group, said he didn't believe the lower temperatures harmed the blood, but there has been little research done on the subject.

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

About 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.

To arrange to donate blood, call (800) 448-3543.

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