Utah Faces Critical Blood Shortage, How to Help Those in Need

Jul 22, 2021, 6:14 PM | Updated: Jul 26, 2021, 10:55 am

BLUFFDALE, Utah – Utah, along with the nation, is facing a critical blood shortage this summer. Health care professionals are urging Utahns to donate to help those who rely on regular blood transfusions just to survive.

Over the last three months, the American Red Cross has distributed more than 75,000 blood products than anticipated to meet increasing demands, depleting the national blood supply.

While blood donations often help people in crisis after an injury or during a life-threatening surgery, some people, like 12-year-old Garrett Thorell, rely on regular transfusion to enjoy a normal, active lifestyle.

Like other kids his age, Garrett loves to play sports and hang out with his friends. He is also a pro on his scooter.

12-year-old Garrett Thorell loves to ride his scooter and do tricks with his friend in the neighborhood. Thorell has a blood disorder and relies on a monthly blood transfusion to stay alive. (Ken Fall, KSL TV)

“I can pull off a tail whip!” he described.

“Garrett is larger than life” his mom, Rachel Thorell, said. “Everywhere he goes, he definitely is the life of the party.”

With that kind of energy, one would never guess he often doesn’t feel well by the end of the month.

“I’m usually really tired. I have back pain and my eyes get white,” Garrett said.

“He feels it. He can get back pain in his bones, usually in his hip bones, his spine,” his mom added.

Garrett has a blood disorder called Beta Thalassemia Major.

Garrett Thorell, 12, shows off his port where he receives monthly blood transfusions to stay alive. Garrett has a blood disorder called Beta Thalassemia Major which impacts the way his body makes hemoglobin. (Ken Fall, KSL TV)

“It’s not very common here in the U.S. He’s actually from China,” Rachel said.

She and her husband adopted Garrett when he was only 18 months old.

The disease affects his body’s basic functions.

“His blood cells don’t work properly. They don’t carry oxygen, his red blood cells,” Rachel explained. “He requires blood transfusions every three to four weeks to be able to stay alive. This is something that he will manage through his whole life.”

Lauren Fredrickson, a medical laboratory scientist who oversees transfusion services at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, says Utah is facing an unprecedented blood shortage.

Garrett Thorell pictured at one of his monthly blood transfusion appointments at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Garrett has a blood disorder called Beta Thalassemia Major which impacts the way his body makes hemoglobin. (Rachel Thorell)

“A few factors have really made this summer worse than we’d normally see and that’s really concerning,” she said. “It leaves us with this razor-thin margin of being able to have enough blood products on the shelf in order to meet our patients’ needs.”

She attributes the shortage to an increase in trauma-related accidents during the summer with people participating in more risky activities, and an uptick in resuming surgeries post-pandemic.

“Because of COVID, especially in our adult population, we saw that elective surgeries were delayed,” she explained.

Rachel Thorell describes his 12-year-old son, Garrett Thorell, as the life of the party with lots of energy. But three or four weeks after he receives a monthly blood infusion he starts to not feel as well. Garrett has a blood disorder called Beta Thalassemia Major which impacts the way his body makes hemoglobin. (Ken Fall/KSL TV)

But people like Garrett need regular transfusions year-round.

“A lot of the kids here that we see can’t wait for treatment and that’s why we need blood now,” Fredrickson said. “We want to have the resources to be able to give them the best treatment immediately.”

She said they especially need Type O-negative and O-positive blood.

“But we do need blood products of all types. We need platelets, we need red blood cells, we need plasma products,” she described.

Garrett receives treatment in the pediatric oncology unit.

“Unlike a lot of kids, when he comes home from his treatment, he’s full of energy,” Rachel said.

Garrett said he is ready to hang out with his friends and scooter when he gets home from his transfusion.

Even though this will be a lifelong treatment for Garrett, the nurses at Primary Children’s Hospital wanted to find a way for him to celebrate his progress. A couple of years ago, he got to ring a bell to celebrate his 100th transfusion.

When Garrett Thorell had his 100th transfusion the nurses at Primary Children’s Hospital let him ring a bell to celebrate. (Rachel Thorell)

“We estimate his junior year of high school, he’ll get to ring it a second time,” Rachel said.

The Thorells are so grateful for generous donors.

“That is why I get to watch him play soccer and play with his friends and be a normal boy because of donors,” she said. “You truly give life.”

“Well, keeps me alive, so I’m really grateful for that,” Garrett added.

He invites Utahns to give blood.

“Well they should because not just me – millions of people, I think, across the globe need blood to survive,” Garrett said.

He tells other kids in his shoes to have courage and strength.

Rachel Thorell helps her son, Garrett Thorell, administer a daily shot to help with some of the side effects he deals with from his treatment. (Ken Fall/KSL TV)

“And happiness, always happiness,” he said.

Fredrickson said blood only has a shelf-life of 42 days and must be constantly replenished by generous donors. Those interested in donating blood can sign up through the American Red Cross or call 801-892-4000.

Fredrickson reassures families of patients who rely on regular transfusion that their needs will be met. She said Intermountain partners with other local hospitals to share blood when they need it.

“We have enough to treat the children for now,” she said. “We’re seeing increased usage and so we want to make sure that we will always have enough.”

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Utah Faces Critical Blood Shortage, How to Help Those in Need