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The process of donating blood amid the coronavirus pandemic

The blood supply for San Antonio-area hospitals has been near critical levels for more than two months.

SAN ANTONIO — KENS 5 Photojournalist Alan Kozeluh decided to roll up his sleeve and do his part to help raise the supply of blood for local hospitals which has been around critical levels for over two months.

I went in Thursday evening to the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center’s Donor Pavilion at 6211 I-10, San Antonio, TX 78201 for what would be the first blood donation of my life.

The process begins as soon as I walked in the door with a temperature check. They asked me some COVID screening questions, then I asked them the question on everyone’s mind.

“So, I’m fully vaccinated, do I need to keep the mask on?” I asked.

“Yes, you do,” answered Rudy Flores, Donor Room Operations Manager with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. “We actually ask all our donors to come in, have the mask on through the entire process,” he said.  

With that out of the way, after a short wait, I was brought back for a physical and a few more questions. They were trying to determine if I had anything dangerous in his blood and if I'm healthy enough to donate.

“We want to make sure that you’re healthy enough to give the blood. A lot of donors come in and they’re at that lower level for them to donate for us,” Flores said. “That doesn’t mean that their iron’s low, or their hemoglobin’s low, it just meant that you’re not high enough to donate, and still be okay.”

Next, I was taken to a waiting area, but I didn’t have to wait there long. It soon became clear why they were able to get me in so quickly: I was surrounded by empty beds.

“As you can see, it’s hard to fill a bed right now,” Flores said. “You see us fidgeting, like what’re we going to do?”

They are trying to reach at least a three-day supply for all blood types; that’s the minimum for our community. The last time they were able to hit that number was March 8.

“It’s heart-wrenching to have to tell a hospital, ‘We know you’re going to need it to save lives, but we can’t give it to you. We don’t have enough,’” Flores said.

Once I was in the chair, the donation process took just over 20 minutes. They took a pint of blood, which is enough to save up to three lives.

“Three precious lives is something that you’re just going to do right now,” said Flores. “You literally have saved three lives. That’s going to go to somebody who really needs it.”

The South Texas Blood & Tissue center needs 600 donations a day to serve the community. Flores says the longer the supply is this low, the more local hospitals will have to put off procedures.

“But you can only put off so much, until it’s like, it’s critical need. And if we don’t have it, we just don’t have it,” he said. “So, it’s literally, we’re at the mercy of our community to come in and donate.”

Anyone interesting in donating can find more information and schedule an appointment at Southtexasblood.org. They are also accepting walk-ins, but scheduled appointments will be given priority.