ATLANTIC CITY - What if they held a blood drive and no one showed up?
That was almost the case Monday at the All Wars Memorial Building in Atlantic City, when not a single donor walked through the doors to give blood more than halfway through a five-hour blood drive.
The nearly bloodless drive was illustrative of the severe shortage the American Red Cross is facing this winter, as bad weather has led to the cancellation of 770 blood drives nationwide, resulting in more than 25,000 uncollected blood and platelet donations, officials said.
The Red Cross needs to collect about 15,000 units of blood every day for patients at about 2,700 hospitals and transfusion centers across the United States. The January slump was the equivalent of the Red Cross shutting down for more than an entire day.
"The main reason we're putting out an urgent call for donations is because the weather in January and the early parts of February impacted our ability to collect blood," Red Cross Penn-Jersey spokesman Anthony Tornetta said."There's a huge strain on supply, and we're hoping to put the message out and recuperate."
Even worse, January was National Blood Donor Month. When the expected gain didn't happen, hopes were pinned on February, which has proven to be equally snow-filled.
Because of last week's two storms, more than 25 blood drives were canceled in the Penn-Jersey Blood Services Region, which includes South Jersey and Philadelphia, resulting in 1,000 to 1,200 units of blood going uncollected, Tornetta said
Penn-Jersey needs to collect 800 to 1,000 units of blood a day to maintain a stable blood supply. While the Red Cross can ship blood from its 35 other blood regions, "in most cases, we don't need to do that," Tornetta said.
"For example, for patients in the hospital today, there's blood on the shelves ready to go," Tornetta said. "It's the hospital patients coming in next week who we need to (be ready) for."
The largest need is for blood types O positive, O negative - which can be donated to anyone - A negative and B negative, the Red Cross states.
But for a while at Monday's Atlantic City drive, there were no blood types of any kind. Several appointments made for the morning - usually the busiest period - came and went, and 10 staff members sat at tables talking as equipment stood unused, post-donation snacks went uneaten, and everyone waited.
"It's extremely unusual," team supervisor Jim Gallagher said. "We usually get 25 to 30 a day typically in the Penn-Jersey region."
The fresh snow on the ground may have had an effect, Gallagher said, "but when weather has something to do with it, usually it's because those (blood drives) have closed. ... It's kind of sad, because we need all this blood."
Tornetta said that just an inch of snow, or even the threat of it, may hurt blood drives.
"People say, 'I'll take an extra hour to get to work', or maybe schools open an hour late, and that affects it," Tornetta said.
While the Red Cross doesn't send out a town crier with a bell to wrangle up donors, there are ways of trying. Gallagher said that account managers call routine donors on their lists, though people can donate only every 56 days so their red blood cells can return to normal levels.
Finally, three donors arrived later in the day - though only two ended up being "productive donors" able to give blood. Donors must weigh 110 pounds and be in generally good health to donate, and those 18 or younger (16-year-olds need parental permission) have other height and weight requirements.
Donors sign in, answer a few questions, get a "little bit" of a physical examination, then a pint is drawn and donors can grab a snack before they go. All in all, it takes about 40 minutes.
Platelets, which help with clotting, can be used for only two days, Gallagher said. Whole blood is good for 42 days, and frozen plasma is good for 14 days.
Some of the busiest drives in the area are at Atlantic City casinos, such as at Showboat on Thursday and Caesars on Friday, which usually draw 60 to 80 donors. Gallagher has high hopes for this week's blood drives, despite predictions of a potential storm for Thursday morning.
"Casino (drives) fare pretty well, because it's usually employees who donate," Gallagher said. "And they have to show up for work one way or another. ... But I guess we'll see."
Contact Steven Lemongello:
@SteveLemongello on Twitter