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Teens needing frequent transfusions make plea for blood donations

December 08, 2021

Kami and Kyra Crawford’s lives depend on a reliable source of blood. And with regional blood supplies ebbing, they’re scared.

Every three weeks Kami, 18, and Kyra 16, are hooked up to equipment at University Hospital that removes their blood, replaces the red blood cells deformed by sickle cell disease, then pumps the replenished blood back into their bodies.

Without the transfusions the teens would be vulnerable to stroke, extreme pain, blindness, fatigue, cognitive difficulty and organ failure.

The possibility that there would not be enough blood to provide the sisters’ required transfusions is a real fear for Dr. Melissa Frei-Jones, medical director for the sickle cell disease program at University Health and UT Health San Antonio.

Dr. Frei-Jones says the lack of adequate blood donations during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in treatment lapses for sickle cell patients across the country, and led to patients here being hospitalized.

“We’ve had patients already impacted by COVID where we haven’t been able to provide them their blood transfusions on time or the volume they needed, which has resulted in hospitalizations and other complications from this disease. So I’m concerned,” she said.

One event away from a blood crisis

That concern is shared by Dr. Leslie Greebon, the medical director for blood transfusion services at University Health, which relies on a stable supply for many different patients and procedures. Some of the greatest needs are for severely injured patients in the Level I trauma center, women bleeding excessively during childbirth and patients needing large amounts of blood during transplant surgery.

She says the pandemic has derailed community blood drives and social distancing has further restricted the number of people coming to blood centers to donate.

“If we have one big trauma that uses a lot of blood or one severe bleeder, we could be in dangerously short supply and not be resupplied by our blood suppliers,” Dr. Greebon said. Regional blood suppliers like South Texas Blood and Tissue Center are also struggling to maintain an adequate supply. A blood shortage could mean having to postpone some treatments or elective surgeries.

The sisters’ plea

Until recently, Kami and Kyra never had to think twice about available blood for their frequent transfusions. Now they do, and it’s made them realize many other patients who rely on blood donations may also be in jeopardy.

“I would, with deep sincerity, ask if anyone in San Antonio is able to – donate blood,” Kami Crawford said.

“You never know who in your family or people around you (will need blood). Accidents happen all the time, so it’s greatly needed even if it’s not for people like me.”

Individuals can schedule a blood donation with University Hospital at DonateBloodToday.com or by calling 210-358-2812. They can also donate through the regional blood bank at SouthTexasBlood.org or by calling South Texas Blood and Tissue Center at 201-731-5590.

VIDEO INTERVIEWS, B-ROLL AND PHOTOS

We can connect you with the doctors and patients included in this advisory for interviews. You are welcome to use the video footage, interviews and photos linked below for news stories. Our hope is that the community will not only donate blood once, but make a habit of donating blood, because many lives hang in the balance.

Photos of blood donation and Kami’s transfusion: https://f.io/6H0kdFn3

* An additional photo of sisters Kami and Kyra Crawford is attached to this email

Video b-roll of blood donation and transfusion: https://f.io/7B62BZFw

*An additional photo of Kami and Kyra Crawford is attached to this email

00-2:09 Blood donor Marcus Falcon in University Hospital blood donor room. He’s been donating blood since 1991.

2:10-2:35 Blood donor Rosemary Beecher in University Hospital blood donor room.

2:36-8:01 Sickle cell disease patient Kami Crawford receiving blood transfusion at University Hospital

Video Interviews: https://f.io/18LXo8NR

00-2:42 Kami Crawford, sickle cell disease patient receiving transfusions.

  • Tell us about your transfusions, how often do you receive them and why?
  • How do the transfusions affect your ability to function?
  • What would happen to your health if you could not receive transfusions when you need them?
  • Kami asks South Texas residents to consider donating – for their families, friends and others whose life may depend on receiving blood.

2:43-13:23 Dr. Melissa Frei-Jones, medical director for the sickle cell disease program at University Health and UT Health San Antonio

  • Explanation of sickle cell disease and the need for frequent transfusions.
  • Description of how transfusions treat sickle cell patients.
  • How would Kyra’s or Kami’s health be affected if they had to delay or skip a transfusion because of a blood shortage?
  • 11:08-13:23 Dr. Frei Jones says sickle cell patients nationwide and here have already had disruptions in treatment because of blood shortages.

13:24-16:35 Dr. Leslie Greebon, medical director University Health blood transfusion services

We have asked the public many times in recent months to donate blood because the supply is low and unstable. Why is the need even more critical now and how close are we to not having enough blood to serve all patients?

  • Describe the kind of patient need or event that might make it difficult for University Health to provide blood to everyone who needs it?
  • What happens if an event drains our University Health blood supply, and our regional supplier, South Texas Blood and Tissue cannot provide enough blood?
  • Is there a longer-term solution to stabilizing our blood supply?
  • How can the members of the community help out and donate blood?

For news media:

Our news team can help you find an expert to interview. Visit our Media Relations page for more information, or call 210-358-2335.

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