Swanson School of Engineering continues blood drive series to support shortages


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

The Swanson School of Engineering hosted its annual blood drive at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall auditorium on Tuesday in partnership with Vitalant, a nonprofit blood donation organization.

By Donata Massimiani, For The Pitt News

Blood donation shortages are one of the many adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And according to Dale Ellgass, it’s going to take a long time to recover.

“That’s thousands of units of blood that we weren’t able to collect in the community,” Ellgass, a representative from Vitalant Blood Donation, said. “We haven’t recouped, and I don’t believe we will recoup the units of blood that were lost due to COVID.”

The Swanson School of Engineering hosted its annual blood drive on Tuesday in partnership with Vitalant, a nonprofit blood donation organization that supplies blood to nearly 900 hospitals across the United States. The blood drive held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall auditorium is part of the School of Engineering’s summer blood drive series. The fall series will begin in November.

Multiple stations were set up on the stage in the Soldiers and Sailors auditorium for members of the Pittsburgh community to donate blood. Brett Lucht, a third-year graduate student at Pitt, said he’s seen firsthand that donating blood can positively impact those in need.

“I used to be an EMT, so I’ve seen a lot of traumatic car crashes and whatnot,” Lucht said. “Giving blood ends up being a super important part of that pre-hospital care.”

Lucht said he donates blood frequently every eight weeks to be exact.

“It’s something you can do that takes a half an hour of time,” Lucht said. “Your body does it on its own, some people need it, so you might as well give it.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, COVID-19 caused critical blood shortages across the country, but not as a result of the virus itself. The majority of those with the virus do not need blood transfusions, but the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic caused blood collections to decrease. This created a greater challenge for health care facilities on top of other issues relating to COVID-19.

Demand for blood increased 25% since the beginning stages of the pandemic in 2019, according to the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. The increased demand has several causes, including an influx of patients receiving procedures that were postponed in 2020, increases in trauma care and an aging population.

Aside from students, Pitt faculty also donated blood at the event. Adrian Gonzales, an academic adviser in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said he’s donated blood for about 20 years and was happy to be able to donate again.

“I have actually been giving blood since the ‘90s,” said Gonzales. “It’s been a while since I’ve done it, probably over a year and a half, and I’ve been waiting to do it until I got vaccinated.” 

The blood drive was not exclusive to Pitt students and faculty several donors attend nearby universities like Carnegie Mellon University. Mithril Hugunin, a senior mechanical engineering major at CMU, said she donated blood because of the blood shortage. 

“I want people who need blood to have blood available,” Hugunin said. “And I have blood that I don’t need.” 

According to Vitalant’s website, the COVID-19 vaccine does not affect blood donation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows individuals who receive non-live or inactivated vaccines such as the COVID-19 vaccine to donate blood without a waiting period. Vitalant also said there are no known cases of contracting COVID-19 via blood transfusion and there is no risk of getting the virus through the blood donation process. 

According to Ellgass, staff at the blood drives are taking the proper precautions to ensure safety against COVID-19. Ellgass said all CDC and Pennsylvania health guidelines must be followed at the drives, including wearing face masks, having staff take donors’ temperatures, providing sanitation stations and practicing social distancing. 

“Every donor that comes in, they will be asked questions like if they are showing symptoms,” Ellgass said. “We take a temperature, and we are still using the CDC guidelines of social distancing, sanitation areas, masking and all of that. We have to follow all of the CDC regulations, and there are some specific questions to COVID that are part of the medical interview.” 

Ellgass said the team moved the location of the blood drives to Soldiers and Sailors after Pitt canceled all scheduled blood drives at the William Pitt Union where the blood drives were traditionally held in March 2020. The blood drives started up again that month, but at the new location. 

Ellgass said he strongly encourages students to participate in the blood donation program through Vitalant. He said it’s a “vital” aspect of the community.

“It saves lives, without it our hospitals would not be able to operate,” Ellgass said. “It’s a vital product for our community.”