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Blood in War

Red Cross Blood Donor Service

The following is excerpted from BLOOD PROGRAM IN WORLD WAR II by Douglas Blair Kendrick (pgs. 111-116, 119-120, and 136-137).

Chapter V: The American National Red Cross

Blood Donor Centers

Establishment. -- The first Red Cross blood donor center in the Blood Plasma Program of World War II opened in New York on 4 February 1941. ... The 35th opened in Fort Worth on 10 January 1944. Eleven centers were opened in 1941, 19 in 1942, and 5 in 1943 or early in January 1944. The nine centers opened between 1 December 1941 and 1 February 1942 had all been planned or were in process of establishment before Pearl Harbor. ...

Facilities. -- Five centers occupied the property of local Red Cross chapters during all, or almost all, of their period of operation. Seven occupied donated space and two others space donated for all but a portion of the time. The remainder operated in rented space in stores or office buildings, usually in downtown areas or shopping districts, with public transportation, parking space, and space for trucking facilities. ...

Moblie Units

Mobile units ... were operated out of all blood donor centers, the numbers ranging from one to four. At the height of the program, 63 were in operation, and, in all, 47 percent of the blood donations were made through them. These units operated within a radius of 75 miles of the 35 centers, and it was estimated that their use brought 60 percent of the population of the country within range of the Blood Donor Service.

Mobile units had a number of advantages. They gave flexibility to the donor centers in filling their quotas. They materially expanded the territory and population from which donors could be drawn. They also allowed hundreds of Red Cross chapters and their thousands of members to participate in the Blood Donor Service, a participation which, for geographic reasons, would not have been possible otherwise.

Equipment. -- The physical equipment of a mobile unit usually consisted of a 10-ton truck, although some centers continued to use the 1-ton panel truck, which was originally provided, till the end of the war. Many of the trucks were given by civic and other organizations.

Each unit was equipped with folding tables; 10 or 12 specially designed folding cots; four or more portable refrigerators, each with a capacity of 40 bottles of blood; and 9 or 10 boxes that contained all the supplies needed for collecting blood. On the cover of each box was a list of its contents. The truck was so packed that a temporary blood center could be set up almost as soon as the destination was reached. ... A variety of buildings was used -- schoolhouses, assembly halls, parish houses, or available space in an industrial or military establishment. ...

Campaigns for Blood Donors

General Considerations

The American Red Cross Blood Donor Service began with the enormous emotional advantage that donations of blood could save the lives of Video Clip.wounded men. Thousands of persons who could make no other contribution to the war effort gladly gave their blood, and many of them repeated their donations as often as they were permitted. It is ironic, therefore, that from the beginning to the end of the program, the major problem was to obtain an adequate number of donors to meet the requirements. Spontaneous, unsolicited donations were the exception rather than the rule except in special circumstances. Only unceasing efforts enabled the centers to meet their quotas, particularly during lulls in fighting.

The requirements for blood in the 10-month period between the institution of the Blood Donor Service and Pearl Harbor were negligible compared to later demands. Only 28,974 pints of blood were procured during this period, an average of 724 pints per week for the 10 centers then in operation. Only two of these centers had been active during the entire 10 months, and the average amount procured by them was 145 pints per week. Even the largest center, at peak operation during the prewar period, obtained only 441 pints per week.

Donations increased notably immediately after Pearl Harbor, and increased similarly after other severe fighting. After the Normandy invasion, donors poured in from the streets and swamped the telephone lines. During that week, 123,284 pints of blood were collected, and thousands of future appointments were made.

On the other hand, the flow of information concerning the war provided by the free press of the United States sometimes had the effect of a two-edged sword. Immediately after the Normandy landings, for instance, the happy news was received that casualties had been fewer than anticipated. Donations promptly declined sharply and did not again approach the invasion peak until the spectacular race across France began several weeks later.

The pre-Pearl Harbor period had made one thing quite clear, that general publicity must be supplemented by specific recruiting techniques. With spontaneous response apparently depending largely upon the ebb and flow of battle, the greatest single problem was how to maintain an adequate number of donors when the war news was not spectacular.

A second difficulty inherent in the program and not generally clear to the public, in spite of efforts to clarify it, was the necessity for operating each center and each mobile unit on a strict system of weekly quotas. No surpluses could be built up. Planning had to envisage a regular number of donors every day. It was a serious matter when the quotas were not met and also a serious matter when collections exceeded capacity, as they did, for instance, in September 1943.

A part of this same consideration was that blood procurement facilities were necessarily located near processing laboratories. As a result, publicity which would have been gladly provided throughout the country in motion picture theaters, over radio networks, and in similar media had to be used with great care. Only a few experiences were needed to show that national appeals for donors caused confusion and frustration in communities in which facilities for processing blood donations were not available. The closing of collection centers at the height of the fighting also made for difficulties in public relations, perhaps because the reasons -- that special programs, such as the serum albumin program, had been successfully concluded -- were not made as clear as they should have been.

From BLOOD PROGRAM IN WORLD WAR II (SUPPLEMENTED BY EXPERIENCES IN THE KOREAN WAR) by Douglas Blair Kendrick. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army, 1989. (Provided by the Office of Medical History, Office of the Surgeon General/US Army Medical Command.)

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