LOS ANGELES -- With many planning vacations, summer is always a tough time to get people to donate blood. But officials say local and nationwide supplies are especially low right now.
Whether it's a car accident, shooting or open heart surgery - when someone needs blood, the transfusion center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles has to have enough of every type on hand.
"No one wants to be without this precious product when we need to have them for patients," said Kathy Yoshimura, director of lab services.
Yoshimura says the American Red Cross is the hospital's main blood product provider. Now, for the first time in eight years, the nation's largest blood collection organization says it's having trouble meeting hospital needs.
The Red Cross is issuing an emergency plea, urging all eligible donors to give now to replenish an extremely low supply.
Without donors, Yoshimura says elective surgeries will be put on hold, and patients in need will have to be prioritized.
"Difficult medical decisions would need to be made," Yoshimura said.
While whole blood can be kept for about 40 days, precious life-saving platelets many cancer patients depend on are only viable for a few days.
"We are looking at about two and half days that we are able to use this product. So there is a lot of decision making that occurs when we need to provide that unit to somebody," Yoshimura said.
Since blood products have a limited shelf life, a rush of donations is only going to help the problem short term. The best strategy is to donate and then to donate regularly.
"A regularly scheduled donation pattern is really the very best way to go. Taking the summer off because you're away kind of hurts the Red Cross and facilities like ours," Yoshimura said.
Yoshimura said now is the time to make an appointment. The Red Cross says blood products are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in.