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January marks National Blood Donor Month, a time to highlight the benefits of blood donation and celebrate those who give. In 2022 however, there was an extreme blood shortage, furthering the need to give just beyond January. In fact, The American Red Cross says that we are experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade. This dangerously low supply in blood impacts so many aspects of our health care system, including deferring organ transplants. While many people step up this time of year to give, unfortunately many were turned away due to the COVID Omicron variant. Recently, CDC Executive Director, Mary Kay Clunies-Ross got the opportunity to donate and shard about her experience navigating an unprecedented blood shortage in the middle of a pandemic.

CDC Executive Director, Mary Kay Clunies-Ross donates blood at a local donation site in Seattle, Wash.

The hardest part of giving blood right now is getting an appointment. Like other healthcare sectors, blood donation centers saw massive numbers of staff stay home in January due to omicron COVID infections and exposures. This could not have come at a worse time, as donations were already down, and hospitals needed blood. I heard the public call for donors, but still had to wait more than three weeks for an appointment near me. The good news is that by the time my appointment came up, more scheduling spots were starting to open. If you’ve been waiting, now is a good time to try again.

Coincidently, I donated at the Bloodworks NW near my university, and admitted to the phlebotomist that my best friend and I used to come in together and see who could fill a bag faster. She grinned.

“We love it when people come and race,” she said. “We try to get the start time just right.”

There were donors in about every other chair, and only one person in the waiting room at a time. It felt incredibly safe, and I noticed that several of the other donors were senior citizens, so if they felt safe to donate, most others should, too. The donation itself only took about six minutes, during which she smartly made my next appointment for April. (It’s pretty hard to say no. I’m busy, but not too busy to save a life – especially at no cost, and at my convenience.) Just a few minutes later, I had my arm wrapped, a juice and a cookie in my pocket, and I was out of there.

See you in April! And maybe I’ll bring a friend, so we can race.

Join Mary Kay and others in donating blood this year. Find a donation location near you by visiting The American Red Cross.