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Grand Forks blood donations on the rise following end of national shortage

Dak Minn Blood Bank brought back blood drives earlier in the year, which has made a big difference in donation numbers.

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Jon Dostal, a longtime donor at the Dak Minn Blood Bank, donates platelets on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.
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GRAND FORKS – After a significant decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, blood donations in Grand Forks are having a slow but steady resurgence.

A significant factor is the return earlier this year of blood drives at Dak Minn Blood Bank. Dak Minn is now doing one to three drives a week; the blood drives typically take place in schools, businesses and smaller communities in the region.

“Stopping blood drives, that really hindered us,” donor relations coordinator Monica Janssen said.

Donors are allowed to donate every eight weeks, and Janssen confirmed quite a few “regulars” do so. One is Jon Dostal, a self-professed “emergency call” for Dak Minn who comes in to donate platelets as needed. He has been donating in Grand Forks since the late 1970s.

“I knew there was a need,” Dostal said. “When I was in a bad accident, I needed a bunch of blood and it saved my life.”

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Donating platelets typically takes an hour or two, depending on multiple factors, such as how many units are being collected and the donor’s platelet count. The time commitment is a large reason platelet donors are less common. Dostal donates three units – or bags – at a time, so his donation time is expected to be longer.

“Those three bags will save three lives,” Janssen said.

It takes two days to run all the necessary tests on platelet donations, which leaves five days to use the products. The short shelf life makes donations all the more important.

“Our platelet donors are very special to us,” Janssen said. “Not everybody can do platelets.”

According to the Red Cross, there also is always a prominent need for O negative blood, since it can be universally used. O positive is also in great demand, because it is the most common blood type, making up 37% of the population.

The Red Cross declared a national blood shortage at the beginning of the year, stating it had experienced a 10% decline in donations. The shortage was caused by multiple factors, but can be largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Dak Minn was affected by the shortage, Janssen noted the organization was on a less dramatic curve than the national average.

Donations at Dak Minn are still not meeting pre-pandemic numbers, despite the end of the national shortage.

“We lost a lot of donors not going to blood drives,” said Janssen, “and we didn’t only lose them that year.”

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Many donors did not return in 2022 with the resumption of blood drives. Additionally, Dak Minn did not bring in new donors throughout 2020 and 2021. However, Janssen said this recent summer is the best Dak Minn has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

In 2020, there were around 5,300 total “products” received by Dak Minn, including red cell and platelet donations. In 2021, there were around 5,000. This year, as of June 1, there have been 3,395 products received.

With fall here and winter approaching, donations are expected to decline, due to three main reasons: the beginning of the school year, cold and flu season, and people relocating for the winter.

“We are coming into the hard season of holidays,” Janssen said.

This year, the FDA changed quite a few guidelines that make donating blood a possibility for many who would not have been eligible in the past. Dartmouth Health wrote about these changes. Before, donors had to wait a year after the following to donate: tattoos, piercings, male-to-male sexual contact, blood tranfusion, accidental needle stick and travel to a malaria endemic area. Now, donors are eligible after three months. Further, the wait times for donors with various types of cancers have decreased to a year.

“People that have been deferred in the past might not be deferred anymore,” Janssen said. “They might be eligible again.”

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Sav Kelly joined the Grand Forks Herald in August 2022.

Kelly covers public safety, including local crime and the courts system.

Readers can reach Kelly at (701) 780-1102 or skelly@gfherald.com.
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