Blood Assurance officials said Wednesday that Chattanooga blood reserves are getting a little too close to the red - metaphorically speaking.
It isn't exactly unfamiliar territory.
"Actually, it's very common for the O-negative type to be low," Linda Hisey, vice president of marketing and public relations, said Wednesday afternoon.
That's because O-negative blood is accepted by all eight blood types, a mix of O, A, B and AB types. For that reason, it's great for emergency personnel to have on hand. In fact, Erlanger's Life Force air ambulance crews never leave the hospital without four units of O-negative, according to Hisey.
The current issue for Chattanooga, according to Hisey, is that O-negative donations are not increasing, but the need for O-negative blood is.
She attributed the rising need to not only emergency situations, but everyday procedures for cancer treatment, child birth and even minor surgeries which require blood transfusions.
Right now, Hisey said general donations also are down from around 400 units per day to between 300 and 350 units per day.
Also, the U.S. is entering cold and flu season, when donation numbers are forced down by illness, according to Hisey.
Christopher Swafford, vice president of operations at Blood Assurance, said Wednesday that Blood Assurance ships 30 to 35 units -- or pints, roughly -- of O-negative blood to area medical centers every day.
In 2012, he said, Blood Assurance shipped 94,000 units of all blood types to area medical facilities. Of those, 11,353 -- around 12 percent -- were O-negative units.
"It's a scarce resource," Swafford said.
For some O-negative types, it's gratifying to be a universal donor, a member of the six percent.
"We're here to help each other and to make things better for each other," Lauren Collins, a 2012 University of Tennessee Chattanooga graduate with O-negative blood, said Wednesday afternoon. "Why not do it?"
Collins is a Dayton, Tenn. native and now lives in Sweden.
Still, she tries to donate around two times per year, on par with Blood Assurance U.S. averages.
"For me, it doesn't have anything to do with social justice. If the blood bank needs help, I just try to go down and help them," Collins said.
Swafford said donors like Collins make up a small part of the already small percentage of Americans who donate blood. Out of 37 percent of Americans who are eligible to donate, only around five percent actually do, he said.
And blood donations have a shelf life of around 42 days, he said, which means O-negative units cannot be stockpiled when there is a surplus.
"It is just supply and demand," Hisey said. "Unfortunately, you can't just ramp up production."
Swafford and Hisey encouraged anyone interested in donating blood to either show up at a Blood Assurance location or mobile "blood-mobile" site, do some paperwork, brief tests and potentially start donating that day.
Or, anyone can call ahead to Blood Assurance and make an appointment to come in and explore blood donation.
After blood donation, monitoring and snacks are available.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.