UAB Hospital is hosting its annual summer blood drive June 27 and June 29-July 3 in the second floor atrium of the North Pavilion. Regular blood drives further the hospital’s goal of becoming a self-sufficient transfusion service.

Casey Jones, Blood Bank interim supervisor, examines a pint of donated red blood cells.

People who donate blood during this time will help ensure that UAB Hospital’s supply remains strong during a time of year when donations traditionally are very low, says Marisa Marques, M.D., medical director of the hospital Transfusion Service.

“We have reduced the amount of blood we need on hand thanks to a new blood-utilization program we have implemented, making this scarce resource more available at the critical times when it’s most needed,” Marques says.

“However, in order to avoid reaching a dangerously low level that often occurs during this time of year – we have to be proactive.

“More than ever we need to collect on campus to guarantee we have the supply we need, ensuring our patients receive the best care possible.”

Times for the drive on June 27 and June 29-July 2 are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Donations will be accepted from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 3. The American Red Cross also is hosting a July 2 drive at the Galleria from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the old Belk department store location. That drive, Birmingham’s largest, will benefit UAB Hospital and other hospitals in the area.

UAB Hospital uses an average of 700 units of blood each week for surgeries, transplants, trauma care, difficult pregnancies and cancer treatment. Consequently, the hospital is one of the nation’s largest users of blood products, ranking in the top five of hospitals supplied by the Red Cross. However, more than 85 percent of the blood used in Jefferson County is collected elsewhere in the state – or in other states.

Shortages are common throughout the country during the summer so UAB Hospital can’t rely on importing blood units. The UAB community showed its willingness to give the gift of a blood donation in the summer of 2007, surpassing the ambitious goal of 1,000 units for the weeklong LifeSavers Freedom Festival.

“We’re very appreciative of the support the people of Birmingham consistently show during our blood drives,” says UAB Hospital CEO Michael R. Waldrum, M.D. “The UAB community really has increased its donation rate, and we’ve seen a very positive response on the supply side. That’s typical of UAB employees, their families and friends, always stepping up to the plate and helping us deal with a serious public issue.”

Hospital improving blood utilization
UAB Hospital’s alliance with the American Red Cross as its primary provider of blood products prompted a review of the means to increase blood donations and interest in analyzing blood-consumption practices. UAB recently opened a new blood-donation room on the second floor of the North Pavilion and introduced UAB TouchPoints (, a donor-recognition program with awards for regular participation. And, as part of the contract with the Red Cross, the hospital initiated a blood-use audit conducted by Strategic Healthcare Group of Indiana, specialists in optimal blood utilization. They examined the hospital’s blood-use practices and submitted recommendations for improvement this past November.

Since then, UAB Hospital has decreased its total blood use by 11 percent – and Marques says the good news is that there is room for further improvement.

“We were growing by 3 to 5 percent per year on the number of units of blood we were transfusing; now we’re consistently using 10 to 11 percent less blood compared with that we had used in the same month the previous year,” Marques says.

“We’re not totally where we need to be yet, but there’s no question we’ve come a long way in a short period of time. Once we further understand our data in terms of which patients are receiving a transfusion and when they are receiving it, we think we will be able to decrease use by another 10 percent. That tremendously helps the overall blood supply and our patients.”

Less blood is being used for transfusions for two reasons: research shows many patients can tolerate anemia better without a transfusion, and the amount of blood being taken from patients for tests is decreasing.

“Evidence confirms patients with selected diagnoses, such as chronic anemia and those in intensive-care units, generally do well when they receive less blood,” Marques says. “In fact, studies confirm that using fewer transfusions reduces mortality, infection rates, risk of transfusion reactions, heart attacks and renal failure.”

Cell-salvage program
Another way UAB Hospital staff is working to be more efficient in its blood use is by testing more modern methods to collect the patient’s own blood during surgery and give it back to them — a process known as the cell-salvage.

“It’s a very efficient way to avoid transfusions,” Marques says. “We are evaluating new instruments that can process the blood lost during surgery and give it back to the patient more efficiently than those we currently use.”

The IMPACT computer system also will enable staff to collect more data on blood usage, giving further insight into areas for improvement. “New information can help optimize what we do,” Marques says. “We want to be vigilant and on the cutting edge of utilizing our resources in an efficient and effective way while maintaining the excellent patient care UAB is known for giving.”

New technology for blood drive
Those giving during this blood drive can give more than they normally might due to new technology. Men who weigh at least 175 pounds and are 5-foot-5 in height and women that weigh at least 150 pounds and are 5-foot-1 can donate two units of red cells — the most critical blood component — at one sitting instead of one unit of whole blood in what is known as a double red-cell donation.

Double red-cell donors cannot donate again for 16 weeks, as opposed to an eight-week wait for those who donate one unit of whole blood.

“It’s a very nice way to make a major donation up front,” Marques says. “Double red-cell donations are particularly desirable for those with O positive and O negative blood types. Many donors actually feel better after a double red-cell donation than they do donating whole blood, according to studies. We’ve been doing these donations for the past couple of drives with great success.”

All donors participating in the June 27 or June 29-July 3 will receive a Robert Trent Jones golf pass, an assortment of Red Cross/UAB TouchPoint gifts and validated parking. In addition, every donor can participate in regular drawings for gift cards to local shops and restaurants as well as a variety of other prizes.