There is an ongoing crisis in this country, and Paul Ness is right in the middle of it. For Ness, director of Transfusion Medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of pathology and medicine at the School of Medicine, that crisis is the tenuous state of the nation's blood supply.
He is quick to point out that every three seconds there is someone in this country who needs to have some of his or her vital fluids replaced, and it's estimated that 95 percent of the population will need blood or blood products at some point in their lives.
The problem, however, is that less than 5 percent of the population gives blood.
Ness says that at the hospital there are a lot of anxious moments because the institution is often dealing with minimal blood supplies.
"On any given day, we would like to have seven days of blood supply," Ness says. "And these days, we are almost never there."
In order to help stem this shortage, Ness, the former CEO of the American Red Cross for the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region, has become a champion of the blood drive.
Although he understands that some people are squeamish or feel they don't have the time to donate blood, he says they should consider that for every pint of blood donated, three lives can be saved,
"A prick in your arm is a very small price to pay for what I think should be an overwhelmingly good feeling about saving someone's life," says Ness, who is currently the senior medical director of the American Red Cross for the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region.
The American Red Cross, a volunteer-led organization, is on the frontlines of responding to the crisis of the blood-supply shortage in this country. In addition to providing emergency services and assistance to victims of fires and other disasters, the health services organization supports blood collections such as the drives held regularly at Hopkins institutions during the course of the year.
The American Red Cross for the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region was responsible last year for collecting 277,000 pints of blood, which supplied 84 hospitals in the area.
The organization is one of the agencies that will benefit from the Responding to Crisis portion of the 1999 United Way Campaign of Central Maryland. Twenty-three percent of the total funds raised will go to support agencies and programs that provide shelter for the homeless, stabilize people in crisis and care for the victims of domestic violence.
Ness, who is also president-elect of the American Association of Blood Banks, says proudly that blood drives in East Baltimore typically bring out between 400 to 500 donors for each two-day period.
According to Donna Mattingly, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, Hopkins is the largest supporter of blood drives in the region.
However, Mattingly warns that even at Hopkins enough people still are not donating. Currently the organization has less than a day's supply of either positive or negative type O, the universal blood type.
"Especially this time of year, blood supplies can reach dangerously low levels. It is vital that we at least maintain our level of supplies," Mattingly says. "The need for blood never takes a holiday."
She adds that a single operation, such as a liver transplant, could require the transfusion of up to 100 units of blood.
Ness attributes the shortage, in part, to both the overall population and the donor population's getting older.
"This [message] goes out to all undergraduates," Ness says. "We need younger people to start getting in the habit of giving blood."
In order to give blood, an individual has to be at least 17 years old and weigh more than 110 pounds. The human body contains between 10 and 12 pints of blood, and a person can donate a pint every 56 days. After it is received by the American Red Cross, the blood is tested for blood-borne diseases and once it is deemed safe, split into three categories of use: plasma, used for victims of burns and other traumas; red blood cells, used for organ transplants and accident victims; and platelets, often used for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to help in the healing process.
Even those who can't give blood can encourage others to give or can donate their time at blood drives, Ness says.
One Hopkins student group that is donating time is the Circle K, a Homewood student service organization. At every blood drive on the Homewood campus, three or four members of the Circle K volunteer their time by serving drinks and crackers, handing out surveys and just talking to those who are donating.
Daria Bollinger, coordinator of the Homewood blood drive, says she appreciates the help of these students and all of those who have donated blood in the past, and she encourages those who give to continue to do so on a regular basis.
Bollinger, communications program coordinator at the Office of Faculty, Staff and Retiree Programs, also implores those who haven't given blood to consider that either you, someone you work with or a family member is going to need blood at some point.
"If you continue to put off giving, [there may not be blood available] when someone you care about really needs it," Bollinger says.