Blood Bank of Delmarva in blood supply shortage

A former Marine from Felton, Sgt. Bell the Rapper is best known for his uplifting rap songs that encourage people to donate to Toys for Tots. Now, he is reminding people of another way they can give to their community.

He went to the Blood Bank of Delmarva donation site in Dover to donate May 7 and encouraged others to do the same. “It’s a very vital thing to do, if you can do it,” he said. “I think that donating blood is so critical, [especially] now with the COVID stuff going on.”

Despite a slight wariness around needles, Bell has donated more than a gallon of blood since the 1990s. He said he is motivated by knowing that his blood could help someone live longer.

“I think it’s very rewarding just to know that what you’ve done could possibly save a life or sustain life,” he said. “When I’m looking at the needle, I’m thinking, ‘Damn, that will help somebody.’”

Whether the donation goes to cancer patients, kids with sickle cell anemia or premature babies, Blood Bank marketing communications specialist Tony Prado said people often come back to donate multiple times a year because they feel a sense of fulfillment.

Still, the Blood Bank needs a lot more. It is like a warehouse that supplies blood to all 19 hospitals in the Delmarva Peninsula, and that means all in Delaware. As hospitals start offering elective surgeries again, they will need to restock. The Blood Bank announced May 13 that their supply was dangerously low.

While some mobile drives have started again and donations have picked up since then, “we’re still very much in a blood emergency,” Prado said.

When mobile blood drives were canceled by stay-at-home orders, the Blood Bank lost 40% of their donations. “Blood drives disappeared overnight,” he said.

The goal is to keep at least a seven-day supply of each blood type in inventory. Most of the blood types are barely at half that.

“It’s going to take some time until we climb out of this hole,” Prado said.

While he said only about a third of the population is eligible to donate blood, 10% of those people give. He encouraged people that donating is safe, and each donation site is taking extra precautions to keep protect people during the pandemic.

How donating works

Visit www.delmarvablood.org/give-blood or call 1-888-8-BLOOD-8 to find a close donation site or mobile drive. Before arriving, Prado recommends eating heartily and drinking plenty of water. (This will help, especially if needles make you queasy). When you walk inside, someone will take your temperature and give you a mask if you don’t already have one. If this is your first time donating, you will be given a sort of physical. The staff member will take your blood pressure, measure hemoglobin levels and ask a series of questions about health history, travel and anything that might put you or others at risk by donating. There are two ways you can donate. The biggest need right now is red blood cells, Prado said.

Give whole blood: The phlebotomist puts the needle in your arm, and you donate one pint of blood. Later, that pint is divided into one unit of red blood cells and one unit of plasma.

Give double red blood cells: This means you only donate red blood cells. You will donate the same amount of blood as in the first method, but a special process separates the parts and returns the plasma to your body. It takes about a half hour longer, but donors don’t need to donate as often this way.

While drawing the blood can take as little as 10 minutes, the whole process, including the screening and prep, is about an hour. Then, the donor recovers in an area called the canteen with cookies and juice. The blood goes to a lab to get tested. A new program alerts donors when their blood was delivered and tells them which hospital received it.