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A gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured 53 at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 12. Mateen, too, was killed after police broke into the building, where he was holding 30 more people hostage for several hours, and shot him. The night is known as the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.

Orlando Crisis Shines A Light On Blood Donations


In the hours following this weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando, people across the country headed to their local blood banks to make a donation. Today on Think, guest host Lauren Silverman explored how our blood supply is managed, whether we are equipped to mobilize mass blood drives and why some people can’t donate with Dr. Ravi Sarode, director of transfusion medicine and hemostasis at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and Dr. William Crews, medical director of laboratory services for Carter BloodCare.

The KERA Think Interview

Interview Highlights: Dr. Ravi Sarode and Dr. William Crews…

…On the ban of gay blood donors:

Dr. Crews: “Back in the 80s there were a lot of highly publicized cases of blood recipient’s contracting HIV from blood transfusion and so the FDA implemented a strict policy to ensure the blood supply was as safe as possible. And so the old regulation was even if a man had sexual contact just once since 1977 then they were indefinitely deferred. But after a subcommittee of experts met and discussed the research and data that was available and they felt that it could safely be relaxed to a 12 month deferral period, instead of and indefinite deferral period.

Dr. Sarode: The history started in 1980, 84, 85 and we realized that HIV was transmitted by sexual contact and transfusion and there was a lot of public phobia at that time. I still remember being in India and people were talking about, “Can I use a toilet seat if someone who had it used it?” So you can imagine the fear about HIV was so strong amongst the general public that the FDA had to come up with some very strong guidelines so that the public felt safe. And I think over a period of time we have developed several testing efforts which are in place and we know that now blood is very safe.”

…On what blood is available for emergencies like the Orlando shooting:

Dr. Crews: “There’s actually a saying in the blood center community that the blood on the shelf is what saves lives. For the horrific situation in Orlando, I believe in addition to the 49 casualties they were like over 50 people who were injured so those people are going to need blood right away. They’re not going to be able to wait, as I mentioned it can take up to 48 hours to for a blood donation to become available so they’re going to need blood right away.”

…On why we don’t have synthetic blood:

Dr. Sarode: “I think synthetic blood sounds good, but blood is really complex, especially red cells and to use synthetic blood to deliver tissue oxygen by having chemicals which is free in some solution, it has not materialized … However, there are other techniques that have been used and that are in development in different countries where they’re using stem cells. You have stem cells coming from the bone marrow, which are undifferentiated initially. And you stimulate them to go into different directions. You can make them become red cells. You can stimulate to make them white cells and platelets … so I’m hoping that in the future we should be able to get different components in the laboratory.