Our very own Gigi Farrell was featured in San Diego Magazine. The article shares what it was like for Gigi on the front lines as the pandemic unfolded.
We are proud of the staff at San Diego Blood Bank for their resilience and perseverance. In the early days of COVID-19, we braced ourselves for whatever was needed to maintain a safe blood supply for our region. Our team pushed down the fear and faced each day with so many unknowns.
A lot of essential workers can keep a distance from others, but our work is a little different. What was once jovial interactions between staff and donors became a bit of trepidation felt by all. The fact that you put your trust in us to keep you as safe as possible is deeply appreciated. We all just kept showing up. It's what we knew we had to do. And it's what we will all continue to do every single day.
We asked 16 locals—from students to nurses, hoteliers and store owners—how they're working through the pandemic and helping others
Gigi Farrell Registered nurse and department manager of Nursing and Community Wellness at San Diego Blood Bank As told to Erin Meanley Glenny
I manage San Diego Blood Bank’s main donor center near downtown and the one in El Cajon. I’ve been with the organization for 20 years and thought I had seen it all until COVID-19.
We supply blood to nearly 50 hospitals in the region; including some hospitals in Orange and Los Angeles counties such as City of Hope.
We usually have a general sense of what each hospital will use each week. We have real-time eyes on hospital supply and can see when there is a major drop, perhaps due to an emergency. This is why it is so important to have a 5-to-7-day supply on hand. At times during the pandemic, we’ve had less than a half-day supply of several blood types for several days in a row.
Each month, we typically collect about 2,800 pints of blood at our six centers and more than 5,000 pints from our bloodmobiles. So more than 60 percent of the local blood supply is collected on our bloodmobiles. We normally have six to 10 of them out in the community on any given day.
Around mid-March, our bloodmobile drives began to cancel due to schools closing and companies switching to remote work. We didn’t have enough blood on the shelves, and it was scary. We immediately jumped into sending out the plea—everyone was tweeting. We asked younger donors to step up to allow older donors to stay safe at home. The community answered our call, like they always do.
People were waiting two hours. It got very overwhelming. There was a point when we had an eight-day supply—that was unheard of.
Over my 20 years working at the blood bank, I have found that tragedies bring donors in—I was at SDBB in the days after 9/11. We had donors in lines around the building, waiting hours to donate. I believe people need to be with the community so we can mourn together and support one another. Coronavirus is slightly different, in the sense that there’s so much fear of the unknown out there.
Because a lot of our donors are baby boomers, we really need to bring the younger generation in, the millennials, Generation X. We got a lot of new donors, first-timers coming in, but we need them to come back. It’s not a one-time thing. The blood is only good for 42 days, and it is usually out the door within a few days. The platelets, in the blood plasma, have to be used within five days.
We need more COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP), which we collect from donors who have recovered from the illness. One CCP donation can help as many as three or four patients still fighting COVID-19. The demand for convalescent plasma in June was double that of May, and as of July we are starting to see even higher demand—we need more recovered patients to sign up.
Many hospitals have told us that our ability to stand up our CCP program so quickly was almost unheard of.
On a personal note, I reached my 15-gallon milestone recently, and donated in honor of my Uncle Rudy, a regular blood donor who was admitted to the hospital in April for a critical case of pancreatitis. Rudy received eight pints of blood over the course of five surgeries. These units saved his life, and it really hit home for me and reminded me of my purpose.
This article was originally published on August 18, 2020 in San Diego Magazine. Click here to read 15 more "San Diego Pandemic Stories."