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Vitalant in need of blood donors, offering vouchers for pizza and Amazon until Dec. 31

For some, the winter holiday season means a busy schedule of travel and celebrations. The holidays also signal one of the toughest times of year to maintain the state’s blood supply.

Sue Thew is with Vitalant, Arizona’s largest nonprofit, independent blood provider. After ripple effects of the pandemic led to a nationwide blood crisis early this year, she said Vitalant is still running at about 20% below pre-pandemic blood drive numbers.

“Even though it might not be convenient for people to donate blood right now, we still have normal blood usage in the hospitals,” Thew said. “There’s patients that are spending their holidays in the hospital. So it’s important for us to make sure that they have the life-saving transfusions they need.”

Anyone can end up unexpectedly needing blood, she said.

“What if it was your child, or your mother, or your spouse or loved one that found themselves in need of having a life-saving blood transfusion?” Thew asked.

That question is one Thew said she and her family have had to face, she said.

“My dad had a heart attack on Christmas Eve about twenty years ago,” Thew said. “He had to undergo emergency quadruple bypass surgery during the most difficult week of the year to maintain our state’s blood supply.”

Her mother, Thew said, also received multiple plasma transfusions after a head injury.

“She didn’t anticipate anything happening that day,” Thew said. “You just never know when something’s going to happen, and it’s the holidays. It's the time to think about the gift of life and to take care of those people who maybe aren’t in a position to be able to help themselves because they’re in a hospital bed.”

Thew said appointments typically take about an hour, and making one ahead of time can help make the process a little quicker than just walking in.

Frequent blood shortages could be eased by the Food Drug Agency, which is evaluating data from an agency-funded study to decide whether to switch to more individualized screening methods for gay and bisexual men. In 1983, amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the FDA placed a lifetime prohibition on blood donation by gay and bisexual men. The lifetime ban was replaced by a 12-month waiting period in 2015, and further lightened to three months in 2020 due to a pandemic-related blood shortage.

Vitalant is participating in an ongoing advanced study to lift the prohibition entirely.

“Vitalant is absolutely in favor of any change in regulations that is based on medical and scientific data that increases the number of people eligible to donate blood,” Thew said. “It’s important that people are evaluated individually on their eligibility to donate blood and not by a category. We’re leading the advance study and we hope that the FDA will get enough evidence from that to be able to consider a deferral change.”

As the study continues, Thew said everyone eligible to donate should, especially if they have Type O blood. Until Dec. 31, those who donate through Vitalant will receive a voucher for a free Streets of New York pizza. Vitalant is also offering a $10 Amazon gift card to every donor.

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.