Blood Donations Saved Many Lives the Night of Pulse

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Photo by Michael Rivera

In the immediate aftermath of the Pulse shooting, the staff at OneBlood sprang into action. OneBlood is a not-for-profit organization responsible for providing safe, available and affordable blood to more than 200 hospital partners and their patients throughout most of Florida, parts of Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

That blood was in demand immediately after the shooting.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, 372 pints of blood were used to help shooting victims in the first 24 hours. One victim required 214 pints of blood, platelets or plasma. Typical volume for a Sunday is about 25 or 30 pints. Over the next two weeks, 109 pints were used for shooting victims.

“On the morning of June 12, the need for ready blood supply was never more apparent,” said Susan Forbes, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at OneBlood. “What most don’t realize is blood has to be donated in advance of when it’s needed. It takes time to be tested. In most cases, a person who donates today, their blood will be sent to a hospital in two or three days.”

OneBlood is a 24/7 operation. When the overnight distribution shift heard what had happened, it began sending blood to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

“We were able to meet the need,” Forbes said. “We were rushing in blood from all over our service area and getting it here. It was an unprecedented event.”

When the world woke up to the news of the massacre, many around Orlando wanted to help. The response was overwhelming. In the week after the attack, OneBlood took in more 28,500 pints of blood; more than double the agency's average weekly volume.

At the height of the aftermath, OneBlood also had to issue a news release in an attempt to stop a rumor that sexually active gay men were being allowed to donate blood in the emergency. The rumor was splashed across 24-hour cable TV and the Internet.

The FDA bans any men who had sex with men in the past year from donating blood, as an extra line of precaution to prevent HIV infection through transfusion.

“We had to squash those rumors. All blood centers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” Forbes said. “As a regulated agency, OneBlood is required by law to follow all rules, guidelines and to follow policies put forth by the FDA. We don’t make the rules, we have to follow them.”

OneBlood employees were all hands on deck on Sunday and Monday: taking in donations from the long lines of donors and making sure all hospitals in its coverage area had sufficient blood.

During the midst of the crisis, OneBlood learned that one of its employees, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala was among the 49 dead. He was a supervisor in the platelet room at the blood center.

“He was a very loved team member here,” Forbes said. “He was very outgoing and a tremendous leader. His team appreciated him so much and loved working with him. He made the job a lot of fun for everybody. He was a great motivator and great leader. We still cry over this loss. It was devastating to learn that one of the victims was someone who dedicated so much of his life to saving lives.”

While still mourning Ayala-Ayala’s death, OneBlood remains focused on saving lives. It recently paired with five Pulse survivors­, Jeff Xcentric, Ilka Reyes, Bryan Carabello, Tony Marrero and Angel Colon to encourage others to donate blood.

“Blood donors saved many lives that night,” Forbes said. “It was the donors who came in when there was no tragedy. It is the people who came in during the days and weeks before the shooting. It was their blood that was on hand to use that night. So the message really is, if you are eligible to donate blood, please don’t wait for a tragedy to do so.”

You can read more about the Pulse survivors’ stories here: www.oneblood.org/i-am-oneblood/testimonials/pulse-survivors.stml 


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