"We don't know where our donors have gone," said Linda Decker.
Decker works with the blood services department of the American Red Cross's Tennessee Valley Region. Over the past year, Shelbyville's support of American Red Cross blood drives has plummeted from 50 units of blood each month to fewer than 30. Some months, as few as 15 units have been collected.
"We recognize that everyone's lives are busy and it's sometimes difficult to find that one hour to dedicate to donating blood," wrote Decker in a letter to the Times-Gazette. "But, we have area hospital patients who are depending on us to help keep them alive."
Community blood drives are held in Shelbyville on the second Tuesday of each month at Regions Bank on Elm Street. This month's drive will be held Tuesday from noon until 6 p.m. There will also be a special drive at the same location Sept. 4 focusing on type O donors. Holidays like Labor Day mean traffic accidents, coupled with busy vacationers who don't think they have time to donate, leading to shortages.
"There's no substitute for blood," wrote Decker. "If people lose blood from surgery or injury or if their bodies can't produce enough, there is only one place to turn -- volunteer blood donors. Most of us will require a blood transfusion at some point in our lives. In order to assure that patients who need blood can have access to it immediately, there must be a ready supply on hospital shelves.
"After natural disasters and other tragedies, people tend to donate more blood. However, it is the people who donate regularly whose blood saves lives during emergency situations because it is there waiting on the hospital shelves."
Tennessee Valley Region strives to collect 800 units of blood each day in order to maintain about a 5 days' supply. Right now, there is only a 1 1/2-day supply. There is a day's supply of O negative, less than a day's supply of O positive, and half a day's supply of B negative.
For AB positive, there is a 4 1/2-day supply -- more than the other types but still less than the goal.
"Every day," writes Decker, "patients need blood for cancer, heart surgeries, emergencies such as car accidents and burns. Approximately one out of every 10 people who enter the hospital needs blood. A heart surgery patient can use up to six units of blood and six units of platelets. When one person donates blood, a pint of blood is collected. This is one 'unit' of blood. An auto accident victim can use anywhere from one to 100 units of blood."
According to Decker, 60 percent of Americans are eligible to donate but only 5 percent actually do.
To give blood for transfusion to another person, you must be healthy, be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and not have donated blood in the last 8 weeks (56 days) or a donation of double red cells in the last 16 weeks (111 days), according to the Red Cross web site. "Healthy" means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, "healthy" also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control.
The Tennessee Valley Region oversees Red Cross blood services for all of Middle Tennessee. For other Red Cross functions, such as disaster or military assistance, Bedford County is part of the Heart of Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross, which is based in Murfreesboro. The Heart of Tennessee Chapter is a United Way of Bedford County member agency.