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Hospitals Face Severe Blood Shortage

Posted August. 18, 2004 22:00,   


A few days ago, there was an emergency at the blood bank of Seoul National University Hospital. As blood type O had run out, a 75-year-old patient known as Ahn could not receive brain surgery.

Kim Dong-chan, who was responsible for the bank, posted an urgent appeal on the hospital’s bulletin board, saying, “Blood type O is urgently needed. Any colleagues with type O, please donate blood.”

After donations by about 30 employees, the surgery was able to be performed. It was unprecedented in the hospital’s history that a lack of blood complicated its surgery schedule.

On August 10 at Gangbuk Samsung Hospital in Seoul, another risky situation occurred as its reserve of blood type AB ran out when a 62-year-old female patient, Cha, was on the operating table for stomach cancer. Her life could have been in danger if she did not receive blood transfusion the following day. Donations from relatives who hurriedly came to the hospital saved Cha’s life.

Hospitals are facing one of the worst blood shortages ever. The downward spiral of blood donations, set off by a fiasco of contaminated blood donations, has hardly been reversed, intensifying tensions among doctors.

Blood Reserve at Lowest Level-

A survey of general hospitals by Dong-A Ilbo found on August 18 that all medical institutions are suffering from blood shortages.

Seoul National University Hospital has 200-250 units of blood in its reserve (one unit equals 400 milliliters), compared with 350-400 units a year earlier.

The picture is similar in other hospitals. Severance and Samsung Seoul Hospital have 30 percent of the level they need for blood type O. Hanyang University Hospital has 40 or 50 percent of the blood reserve level it needs.

Efforts for More Blood Donations-

All hospitals have launched blood donation campaigns for their staff. Severance Hospital has circulated an internal memo requesting managers to make it easy for their staff to donate blood during working hours.

Korea University Hospital has come up with its own supply of blood in addition to blood supplies it receives from the National Blood Bank. Starting in September, it had been soliciting donations from members of student circles and clubs at Korea University.

An absolute shortage of blood prompted many stopgap measures.

When a multiple number of patients needed blood for their operations, any leftover blood in one operation room was quickly sent to another room.

Samsung Seoul Hospital has introduced a cell saver, an equipment designed to recycle blood intra-operatively.

Donations from patients’ families and an accumulation of blood by patients ahead of operations are becoming increasingly common.

Any Alternatives?-

The problem is that there is little room for improvement in the supply of blood.

“The way things are, we will be facing a situation where we cannot conduct surgery before patients bring blood donors for their operations,” said Professor Kim Dae-won of the laboratory medicine department at Samsung Seoul Hospital.

“There is a need to readjust the age limit on blood donors from the current 60 years of age to 70 years as in other countries,” said Professor Kim Hyun-ok of the laboratory medicine department at Yonsei University.

Sang Hoon Kim TK Sohn corekim@donga.com sohn@donga.com