COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nationwide, shelves at blood distribution labs are running out.
The American Red Cross of South Carolina is calling the shortage severe.
"I haven't seen the shelves like that ever," said Ben Williamson, Regional Communications Director with the Red Cross, who visited distribution labs this week. "They're really empty. Our donor center was empty."
News 19 learned more about the factors contributing to this shortage and how one family is working to get more volunteers to roll up their sleeves.
Every summer, the Red Cross experiences a slight dip in blood donors.
"Not quite this, but now you add COVID on top of that and vaccinations," said Williamson. "We're in a tough spot."
This summer, with more hospitals resuming elective surgeries and non-emergency operations, paired with a rise in trauma cases nationwide, officials say blood is flying off the shelves.
"We like to have at least a five-day supply of all blood types. We're not anywhere close to that," Williamson explained. "O-type blood, O negative and O positive, we have less than half a day supply on shelves."
If this path continues, someone in need of a blood donation may have to wait.
15-year-old Braden Green of Columbia has sickle cell disease.
Sickle cell causes red blood cells to harden and form a c-shape, causing cells to get caught in blood vessels. Serious complications for patients include severe pain, respiratory conditions, organ failure and strokes.
"It maybe causes me pain at least a few times a month," said Braden. "Sometimes [my friends] ask me why I wasn't playing with them on games or something...I'm telling them I was sick with sickle cell disease."
One of the most critical treatments is blood transfusions.
"Hearing the information that there's a critical shortage, it kind of does something to this mama's heart because I know what it feels like just praying that your child survives," said Braden's mother, Brenda Green.
In 2015, a blood transfusion saved Braden's life.
"I can't imagine being in that same position before and being told, 'There's no blood to save your child'," said Brenda. "I can hug this kid because of a donor, a blood donor."
In 2017, the Green Family founded a non-profit called The B Strong Group, which spreads awareness of sickle cell disease.
For Braden's birthday, he's teamed up with the Red Cross to host blood drives.
"It makes me feel amazing because a stranger would help save somebody's life," said Braden. "One blood donation can save up to three lives."
The Red Cross says only 3 out of 100 Americans give blood.
With just a fraction more volunteering their time, more lives will be saved.
"Thank you for donating regularly and helping to save lives," Braden said to dedicated donors. "Stay strong."
Remember, if you got the COVID-19 vaccine, you can still donate.
This month, the Red Cross is giving $5 gift cards to blood donors.
June 19 is world Sickle Cell Day.
The Red Cross says about 100,000 people in the United States have the disease, most of whom are members of the black community.
For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.
To book an appointment to donate blood with the American Red Cross, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or download the free Red Cross Blood Donor App.
"Everybody can't help by giving money, but you can help by your God-given red blood cells that you will get back and you can save lives," said Brenda.
"I want them to imagine if that was one of their family members and somebody donated to save their family members' lives," Braden added. "I want them to think of that so they can probably save somebody else's family member's life."