Blood donations surge after tragedies like Parkland, but how are they used?

Flood of new donations goes toward replenishing supply, not treating victims

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – When the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School happened more than a month ago, many in South Florida wanted to do something to help. Thousands of people rolled up their sleeves and donated blood, but where did all of that blood go?

Just minutes after the first calls came in and before the victims even arrived at the hospital, Broward Health North, in Pompano Beach, called a "Code Green" -- all hands on deck in the emergency room.

At One Blood, South Florida's largest blood supplier, employees quickly emptied their shelves to make sure doctors had the blood products that they needed to save lives.

"We used 52 units of blood products for our trauma patients that came in," said Dr. Evan Boyer, the medical director at Broward Health North's Department of Emergency Medicine. "Typically, we would have 100 units of blood products, but once we called a Code Green, we got another 100 units sent over."

Those life-saving units of blood came from people who actually donated days before the tragedy.

"I always call them the first, first responders, because they do their part days before the blood is ever needed and as a result, they are saving people's lives," Dr. Boyer said.

It's why so many people turned out to donate after the shooting, but their blood wasn't needed to save the victims in Parkland.  Instead, it was used to replenish supplies sold by One Blood to hospitals all over Florida.

The same cycle is playing out after last week's bridge collapse at Florida University University. Hundreds lined up Tuesday to donate blood even though most of the victims have been released from the hospital.

The blood bank won't disclose the price it charges hospitals, but data shows a pint of blood can cost between $200 to more than $600, depending on the location. Costs typically run higher in coastal areas like South Florida.

One Blood officials said the money pays the costs to operate the business and process and test donations.

After people donate, the blood is usually sent to a hospital within two to three days.

The day after the Parkland shooting, more than 4,000 people donated blood. Thirty percent of those people were first-time donors.

"We can't let days go by before we replenish because you don't know what tomorrow holds, what the next hour holds.  We have to have a ready blood supply," said Susan Forbes, vice president of marketing and communications for One Blood.

This is why after tragedies like the Parkland shooting or the FIU Bridge Collapse, there are urgent pleas for blood.  It's not necessarily for those in the hospital at the moment, but people who may need it in the weeks to come.

Blood donors can rest easy knowing that they are helping somebody at some point in time.

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