The American Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage as drives across the country are canceled amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The organization said that nearly 2,700 canceled drives have resulted in some 86,000 fewer blood donations, a shortage that could be devastating for those in need.
Brian Boyle is a blood transfusion recipient and donor whose 6-month-old son Liam has also undergone multiple transfusions due to a congenital heart defect.
Boyle, 33, was in a severe car accident after high school which left him in a coma in the ICU for two months.
“My heart went across my chest, I sustained shattered ribs, a shattered pelvis, collapsed lungs. Pretty much every major organ was damaged or lacerated,” he tells PEOPLE.
Boyle, who is based in southern Maryland, had 14 major operations following the accident, and received 36 Red Cross blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments, which he credits with helping save his life.
It took about three years for Boyle to recover to the point where he could donate blood, but once he did, he dedicated himself to doing so, and to being an advocate for blood donation awareness.
Boyle’s commitment to the cause came full circle six months ago when his wife Pam gave birth to their son Liam Joseph, who had a congenital heart disease and a number of heart defects that required transfusions.
Shortly after Liam was born he was put in the cardiac ICU and then underwent his first open heart surgery, during which doctors inserted a shunt to improve his circulation and overall blood flow.
Complications necessitated Red Cross blood products to help with his recovery, says Boyle.
“There would be no way he would’ve made it through that first surgery without having the blood transfusions,” he says. “He was only five days old at that time… Having the blood products allowed the progress, it allowed the healing to continue.”
Liam endured a second open heart surgery in August, and a third in February, from which he is still recovering. Boyle says he’ll likely have a fourth at 2 or 3 years old, and will need a heart transplant in his 20s or 30s.
“I remember just sitting there during the four-hour blood transfusion process, watching the blood from the blood bag go to my son, and seeing him smiling and giggling during the process,” says Boyle. “Seeing the color in his face, seeing the transformation in him and his overall progress… If he didn’t have that transfusion, he probably would’ve had another heart surgery. It saved his life multiple times and just seeing the transformation myself, it was one of those moments of your life where you just stop and think, ‘Wow, this is truly amazing.’”
The family — which also includes two-and-a half-year-old daughter Clara, named after Red Cross founder Clara Barton — is currently practicing social distancing by hunkering down in their home. They’re taking extra precautions because Pam is a pediatric nurse practitioner, and her mother is a critical care nurse.
“Liam doesn’t have a spleen, he’s immunocompromised. He’s a cardiac baby, so something as simple as a cold could be fatal for him,” says Boyle. “The flu would be just catastrophic and coronavirus, there’s not much that could possibly be done for his kind of situation, so we’re just being very careful just staying home.”
But even with that in mind, Boyle, who does marketing for a nonprofit, stresses that now is not the time to stop donating blood.
“It is a scary time right now, but everyone rallying around, coming together, it makes a difference,” he says. “People should give blood because it takes less than one hour of their time and that will help give a patient in need the chance at a lifetime.”
Amid the uncertain times, American Red Cross President and Chief Executive Officer Gail McGovern said in a statement that giving blood is among the “most important” things people can do in a public health crisis, and urged those able to, to do so.
“We understand why people may be hesitant to come out for a blood drive but want to reassure the public that blood donation is a safe process, and that we have put additional precautions in place at our blood drives to protect the health of safety of our donors and staff,” she said.
Those precautions include checking the temperature of staff and donors before they enter a drive, providing ample hand sanitizer and spacing beds so that they follow social distancing practices.
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