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Program desperately needs blood

WASHINGTON -- The Armed Services Blood Program needs eligible Type O blood donors to support ongoing military operations worldwide and to replenish the military's frozen blood reserves.

A single battlefield injury victim can require more than 40 units of blood in an emergency. Type O donors are especially important to readiness because their blood can be transfused safely for all blood types, especially in remote areas where it is not possible to test for blood type, said officials.

"Type O donors are the first line of defense for trauma victims. Until a blood type can be verified, Type O blood is used to keep trauma victims alive," said Lt. Col. Ruth Sylvester, Armed Services Blood Program director. "Once their blood type is determined, type-specific blood is transfused. But without Type O blood available, many patients would never make it until the test results came back."

The Armed Services Blood Program also needs Type O blood to maintain its frozen blood reserve. The military maintains a supply of frozen red blood cells to use when fresh blood is not immediately available. Since frozen blood can be safely stored for up to 10 years, it ensures that blood is always readily available to meet the military's needs worldwide, officials said.

Extending the shelf life of blood from 42 days (for liquid red cells) to 10 years in strategic locations enables the blood program to make frozen blood available until the supply of liquid blood begins to flow. But storage requirements and the need for special thawing equipment prevent frozen blood from being used everywhere.

The present need is more acute because military blood donor centers can only collect blood from active-duty servicemembers, government employees, retirees and military family members. Many Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, are deferred from donating for one year because they served in areas where malaria is endemic. This makes regular donations from eligible donors critical, officials said.

"We're always thankful to our donors," Sylvester said. "We know that blood donations save lives every day. Repeat donors and those who ask that we call them when their blood type is needed help ensure we have a consistent supply of all blood types. They're literally lifesavers when an urgent need arises."

Blood program officials encourage potential donors or those who could sponsor a group blood drive to contact their local military blood collection facility. (Courtesy of American Forces Press Service)

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