August 21, 2020
Cancer patients need blood donations for treatment during COVID-19 pandemic
BY Kelley Murfin
When surgeons removed a cancerous tumor called a liposarcoma from Dan Ratliff’s pelvis, they also removed an artery and vein in his leg that were blocking their access to the tumor. Dan lost a great deal of blood during the 16-hour surgery, and received 12 units of donated blood.
Each day, cancer patients at MD Anderson need about 200 units of red blood cells and 600 units of platelets. However, because schools have been closed and most community events have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult to collect the amount of blood and platelets our patients depend on each day.
A blood shortage is especially challenging for surgery patients, like Dan, and those who have blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
Surgery patients depend on blood donors
“Without generous donations to our blood bank, we simply cannot do the surgeries that allow our patients to live longer, cancer-free lives,” says surgeon Stephen Swisher, M.D.
Dan’s wife, Sherry, recalls the stressful day when they learned that Dan’s surgery might need to be postponed due to a lack of donated blood. Ultimately, his care team confirmed there was enough blood supply to perform the surgery, which successfully removed Dan’s tumor.
“The need for blood is critical, because so many patients need complex surgeries like my husband’s,” Sherry says. “Our experience at MD Anderson was life-changing. Without the surgery, my husband might be very ill right now, but because of MD Anderson, he’s doing incredibly well.”
Chemotherapy creates need for donated blood
Lindsay Butzer, a 29-year-old veterinarian from Florida, came to MD Anderson last December after she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She received three rounds of chemotherapy and only a few months later, is in complete remission.
But because the chemotherapy depleted Lindsay’s red blood cell count, she needed blood transfusions. In total, she received five.
“Many patients with cancers like leukemia need to receive blood transfusions while they undergo treatment,” says leukemia specialist Hagop Kantarjian, M.D. “Blood donors are critical to helping our patients, like Lindsay, reach remission.”
A generous supply of donated blood ensures that patients like Lindsay can receive transfusions as quickly and frequently as needed.
“Patients like me often need several blood transfusions, not just one,” says Lindsay. “The more people donate, the more lives will be saved.”
How to donate blood for cancer patients
Donating blood at MD Anderson Blood Bank only takes 30 to 45 minutes. Appointments are required to ensure proper social distancing. To help keep donors safe throughout the blood donation process, MD Anderson is taking additional safety measures, including screening, temperature checks, and asking everyone on our campuses to wear masks.
To donate blood or platelets, schedule an appointment online or call 713-792-7777. All donors will receive a limited-edition T-shirt and are eligible for additional giveaways.
Without generous donations to our blood bank, we simply cannot do the surgeries that allow our patients to live longer, cancer-free lives.
Stephen Swisher, M.D.