URBANA – When most folks hear an ambulance siren, they wonder, where's the accident.
Tricia Haworth, a longtime employee of the local blood bank, thinks about something else:
"Every time I hear sirens, I think about how much blood will they be using," she said.
How much is a big issue right now for Community Blood Services of Illinois, because the local blood bank in Urbana is experiencing a serious shortage in the two types of "O" blood that together represent about 44 percent of what patients need.
That's O-positive, the most common blood type, and O-negative, the universal donor blood type that anybody can receive, said Haworth, the blood bank's director of donor relations and marrow program.
The blood bank typically sees a shortage in the summer and winter months – summer, because people go away on vacation, and winter, because they get sicker and can't donate – but Haworth said she's never seen a shortage as severe as this one.
"We are seeing very, very high hospital usages in the five hospitals we serve combined," Haworth said.
The blood bank serves the two Urbana hospitals, Provena Covenant Medical Center and Carle Foundation Hospital, along with Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville, Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Coles County, and St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham.
Haworth said hospital blood orders have been on the rise since the Memorial Day weekend.
The hospitals haven't given reasons for why their demand is so high, but she does know hospital orders are taking blood out of the blood bank about as fast as it's coming in.
Haworth said the blood bank has continued to meet these orders, but any significant trauma at a local hospital could use up the entire O-negative supply. That's a big concern, because O-negative is the blood type typically used when immediate transfusions are required.
Sarah Bush Lincoln spokeswoman Patty Peterson said that hospital's blood use hasn't fluctuated in the last six months. But Dr. Walter Linz, director of transfusion services for Carle Clinic, said Carle has been noting an upward trend in its blood use over the past year.
"We've had our share of traumas and our share of large surgeries that have required a lot of blood product," he said, adding perhaps that demand is adding to the typical summer shortage.
Getting the supply back up to speed right now is critical, because the blood bank has another holiday weekend coming up – July 4 – that could once again deplete supplies due to holiday weekend accidents and the fact that the blood bank will be closed for donations on the holiday itself, Haworth said.
The blood bank currently needs all types of blood donated, not just the "O" types, and has scheduled several special blood drives around the community.
To be eligible to donate, you must weigh at least 110 pounds, be at least age 17 (16-year-olds may donate with written permission of parent or guardian) and free of any infections.
You must also bring a valid identification with you to the donation site.
The medicines you take aren't a factor.
Haworth said some people think they can't donate blood if they're on medication, but it's more a factor of the health condition you're in than the medicines you take.
For example, it doesn't matter if you take blood pressure medicine if your blood pressure measures normal when you come in to donate.
What's in it for the donor?
There's the feel-good knowledge of giving somebody a precious gift of life, and on certain days, one more thing: Haworth said summertime "Pint for Pint Mondays" have started, and the rewards for donating a pint of blood are ranging from ice cream to sparklers for July 4.