March is Red Cross Month, which started nearly 80 years ago when FDR asked people to give back through donating blood. The Red Cross of Massachusetts tells Boston 25 News we are in the worst shortage they’ve seen in more than a decade.
And one group of people hit particularly hard by this are cancer patients, and that includes pediatric cancer patients. 14-year-old Kirsten Acker from Salem, New Hampshire, is going through much more than your average middle school student.
Kirsten was diagnosed with Choroid Plexus Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive brain tumor lining the spinal fluid spaces in Kirsten’s brain. Chemotherapy and radiation have been physically exhausting, but blood transfusions give Kirsten more energy, so she can still do normal things.
“Things like just going to school and walking around her school building are really difficult. She’s out of breath, her heart is beating much faster, it causes a lot of dizziness - she’s just really tired,” said Kirsten’s mom, Tracy Acker.
“This is something I struggle with a lot -- and it’s feeling like I’m not normal and that I can’t walk around the block or go for a run... but the transfusions have allowed me to go ice skating,” said Kirsten.
Kirsten’s doctor at Mass General Hospital, Pediatric Hematologist, and Oncologist Dr. Howard Weinstein says Kirsten is not alone. He says more than 50% of pediatric cancer patients require blood products for their treatment because Chemo and radiation kill off not only the cancer cells but good cells and lead to anemia and fatigue. Blood donors are the only supply of blood for these patients.
Dr. Weinstein says there are several reasons for the blood shortage, but the main reason is COVID.
He says, at the moment, the Mass General Blood Bank supply is adequate, but they’re limiting any extra transfusions, in case the shortage goes on.
“We’re certainly not putting them at an increased risk for having low blood counts, but we’re a little more careful you know about giving an extra transfusion to cover you know a weekend where that child might not be coming back to the clinic until Monday, said Dr. Weinstein.
That’s why Kirsten, Mass General, and the Red Cross are urging patients to make an appointment to give one hour of their time to donate blood.
“Do as much as you can and as frequently as you can. When I’m older I know I’m going to donate as much as I can,” said Kirsten.
The Red Cross says you can’t get an appointment to give blood because it says all slots are full, that does not mean we’re moving out of the crisis.
Mass General and the Red Cross say they probably don’t have enough sites or staff on any given day, but they’re doing their best and they ask that people to keep checking back until you can find a slot because blood is urgently needed.
As a thank-you, people who donate from now until March 31st will receive a $10 e-gift card, thanks to Fanatics, and will be automatically entered for a chance to win a trip for two to the 2022 MLB All-Star Game in L.A.
You can donate on RedCrossblood.Org or their free blood donor app. Both let you search by zip code for upcoming appointments. The red cross says the feedback we’ve been getting is that it’s hard to find appointments in the next week. They say that does not mean they are moving out of this crisis, instead, they recognize they don’t have enough sites or staff on any given day.
Here’s how to sign up for the Red Cross App: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/blood-donor-american-red-cross/id911428916?_branch_match_id=946103161571390400&utm_source=website&utm_campaign=apple_appstore_bloodapp_lp&utm_medium=quick%20links
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