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Blood donations lowest in 15 years, Red Cross says

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The American Red Cross said it fell 50,000 units short of its blood donation goals in June. Supplies are at their lowest level in 15 years.

A perfect storm of events has driven blood donations to the lowest in 15 years, a shortfall so extreme that some patients may have to cancel elective surgery, medical officials say.

The American Red Cross fell 50,000 units short of its needs in June and will likely fall short again in July, it said. 

If there's not enough available blood, some elective surgeries will have to be cancelled, said Danny Cervantes, a donor recruitment director for United Blood Services in Las Vegas.

"People will put off having knee replacements, hip replacements and other elective surgery," he said.

NBC stations KSN of Wichita, Kan.; KSNV of Las Vegas; WCMH of Columbus, Ohio; WGEM of Quincy, Ill.; WKTV of Utica, N.Y.; and WLBZ of Bangor, Maine, contributed to this report by M. Alex Johnson of NBC News. Follow M. Alex Johnson on Twitter and Facebook.

Summer is typically a bad time for the Red Cross anyway, said Kim Talkington, regional director of donor recruitment for Red Cross operations in Wichita, Kan.

"The need goes up because there are more people traveling and there's more accidents," Talkington said. At the same time, donations fall because families are out of town on vacation, she said.

And because high school- and college-age donors make up almost 20 percent of Red Cross donations, their contributions drop by more than 50 percent when school is out for the summer, said Beth Forbes, a donor recruitment representative for the agency in Quincy, Ill.

That's expected, but this year, there are additional factors.

Damaging storms created extra demand in the East and the Midwest at the same time that they dried up the supply, said Rodney Wilson, communications manager for the American Red Cross of Central Ohio.

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"The power outages and storms we experienced earlier in the month caused dozens of blood drives to be canceled," he said.

Meanwhile, unusually hot weather has kept potential donors from venturing out.

"We normally try to keep a three-day supply on hand locally, and we are down to a one-day supply," Wilson said.

"We need people to think about the need for blood, because the need never goes away. The need never, ever goes away," said Diane O'Donnell, a Red Cross representative in Oneonta, N.Y.

Ellen Russell, director of Red Cross blood services in Maine, said that even if people find it hard to get to a blood center, it's vital that they make the effort.

"A lot of people are on vacations and people are taking a lot of time off, but patients never get a vacation from needing blood," she said.

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