SHERIDAN — Human blood has no substitute.
The substance gives life, and the lack of it can cause severe medical issues.
Despite the importance of blood, donations for the precious commodity have declined in recent years, both locally and nationally.
United Blood Services hosts blood drives in Sheridan five or six times per year to receive blood for hospitals in Montana and Wyoming, including Sheridan Memorial Hospital.
Erin Baker, a UBS donor recruitment manager, said the number of donors during blood drives in Sheridan has decreased from about 100 donors per day a few years ago to around 70 per day currently.
“The younger generations are not really picking up the torch as far as donating blood, so we are trying to get that information out there,” Baker said.
Similarly, the American Red Cross — one of the major blood donation organizations — is facing a critical nationwide blood shortage in the aftermath of the July 4 holiday, when many people traveled and fewer blood drives occurred. To hopefully increase blood donations, the Red Cross is offering $5 Amazon gift cards to people who donate from July 30 to Aug. 30.
Exact reasons for the blood shortage are tough to pinpoint. Many former regular donors — Baker said the average regular donor is between ages 50 and 60 — are no longer eligible to donate because they are aging and have accompanying health issues that don’t allow a person to donate.
Baker added that many people don’t realize blood is in constant need. Other reasons for not donating blood include fear of needles and unfounded worries about getting sick from donating (blood is donated using a sterile, one-time kit). Some people also assume they can’t donate if they’ve had a serious disease, which isn’t always true.
The biggest reason people don’t donate, however, is simply because they have never been asked. Unless someone has directly experienced a blood donation — or knows someone who needed a donation — he or she likely hasn’t thought much about giving blood.
Baker said UBS receives about 35 percent of its blood from high schools and colleges, which aren’t in session during summer, hurting the supply. Holidays are also less busy.
Conversely, UBS usually receives large increases in donations after catastrophes like the Las Vegas shooting last October. However, blood donated after events like the shooting rarely goes directly to victims because of the time needed to process donations.
“That does replenish our shelves, but that’s one thing we want people to understand, is being consistent and donating as much as you can,” Baker said. “It’s the blood on the shelf that really counts … It’s the frequent donors, the regular donors that make a difference.”
Anyone who is healthy and at least 16 years old is eligible to donate.
“If every eligible donor donated at least three times per year, we would not have a shortage,” Baker said.
Baker said Sheridan in general is one of the better UBS donation areas. Sheridan also has several other blood drives separate from UBS.
Sheridan Memorial Hospital hosts them, as does the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care Center, Knights of Columbus, Sheridan College and Sheridan High School.
UBS had a blood drive Monday and Tuesday at the Best Western Sheridan Center.
Dave Moss donated blood Tuesday. Moss has been donating blood for 10 years. He does it as a way to help people and because it makes him feel physically better as well.
“It saves lives,” Moss said. “I can tell when it’s about time to donate. I get a little sluggish and more tired.”
Moss usually does a double donation — meaning twice the amount of red blood cells as a regular donation — three times per year. The double donation means he needs at least 16 weeks between donations, twice that of the normal eight-week frame.
Double donations can be processed on site and be given more quickly to hospitals. It is also better for patients to receive two units of blood from the same person because there is less chance of something going wrong.
Jack Eccles has been a donor for a few years. His blood type is O negative — the universal type that anyone can receive — so Eccles figured he could help a lot of people.
“I do it because I can,” Eccles said. “I can take a half hour out of my day.”
Another donor, who preferred to remain anonymous, has donated regularly since 1986.
“It impacts my life minimally and could impact somebody else’s life in a greater way,” the donor said. “Give a little (and) give a lot.”
With blood shortages sweeping the country, donating — a little or a lot — could go a long way.