'Very scary when your life depends on it': Patients worry as blood shortage reaches critical level

NOW: ’Very scary when your life depends on it’: Patients worry as blood shortage reaches critical level

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- A nationwide blood shortage has now entered critical levels. The Red Cross is pleading with donors to step forward as hospitals are being forced to evaluate which patients need it most. 

One severe case could literally wipe out a full day's supply at a trauma center. Blood centers like Versiti have been forced to cut all standing orders to hospitals by 30%, and patients who need it are terrified. 

Kristin Mill's dog, Ryder, makes her smile. But life's been difficult since Mill contracted a rare parasite from a tick in 2008.

"I remember thinking man, my arms are heavy. It felt like I was constantly carrying like two jugs of milk or sandbags," said Mill.

Fourteen years later, Mill's body is still fighting her tick-borne illness. On a recent trip to get a transfusion, when her numbers were dangerously low, Mill says, "the head nurse came in and apologized and said we're so sorry, we don't have it all."

The Red Cross hopes cases like these will tug at the heartstrings of potential donors.

"For a hospital, it can be very arduous and they have to really ration, okay, who is gonna get transfused today and who can wait," said Dr. Dan Waxman, senior medical director for Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin.

Versiti has blood centers across the area and walk-ins are welcome.

"Seventy percent of our blood used to be collected on blood mobiles," said Dr. Waxman. 

A number of mobile drives were at high schools and colleges, but the pandemic slowed that. 

According to the Red Cross, one-fourth of all donations were this age group. That's down 10%.

"And then looking at what we have on the books coming up for the rest of January, we're really concerned," said Justin Kern, communications director for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. "Just in Wisconsin, you know, 60% of our appointments are open right now, unfilled through the rest of this month, and so that's alarming to us."

It's a desperate cry for help. Donating blood takes about an hour from start to finish, only 15 minutes of that hour is the actual collection.

"We cannot create in a lab what someone can donate within 10-15 minutes. People need people," said Dr. Waxman.

"There's such a shortage right now. It's very scary when your life depends on it and you're sitting and waiting and it's just not there," said Mill.

You can walk into any Versiti Blood Center to donate.

You can also go to redcrossblood.org, enter your ZIP code and you'll see the upcoming blood drives in your area. 

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