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A Johnson County woman created a blood drive before she died. It's needed now more than ever

Katie Scott spends time with her nephews, Rex, Henry and Charlie.
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Katie Scott spends time with her nephews, Rex, Henry and Charlie.

Hospitals in the Kansas City region are shuttling blood supplies among them daily, trying to make sure blood gets to where its needed amid a national shortage.

In the last year of Katie Scott’s life, blood transfusions made all the difference.

The Johnson County native needed them regularly — as often as every other week — during months of chemotherapy to treat a rare bone cancer.

They counteracted the exhaustion caused not just by Ewing sarcoma, but by the treatment — which in the fight to kill cancer cells, also took a toll on healthy ones.

“It was like night and day,” her husband, Ryan Scott, said, recalling how Katie would wake up with renewed strength the day after a transfusion. “It was life back into her.”

For the Scotts, a generous act by others — people who had donated blood — translated into more energy for Katie to continue chemotherapy and to spend time doing things with the people she loved.

On Feb. 4, the family hopes many people will come to Overland Park’s Sheraton Hotel for an annual blood drive launched by Katie, her coworkers and friends in the final weeks of her life.

She knew at that point that the cancer would be fatal and she wanted a way to give back to others the way they had given to her.

On Feb. 1, 2018, Katie died one day before the first blood drive. She was 29.

This year, the effort she began comes as the American Red Cross announced its worst blood shortage in more than a decade.

A five-day supply is ideal. Right now, no sooner does blood arrive and get screened than it’s gone.

“We have less than a day’s supply,” said Joe Zydlo, a spokesman for the Red Cross region that includes Missouri, Arkansas and parts of Kansas. “Probably more like three-quarters of a day’s supply.”

Hospitals get only a portion of what they’d normally expect to receive each day.

Pandemic effect

In a typical year, winter weather and the flu season can easily cut into blood supplies. Fewer people donate, and it’s not unusual for the Red Cross to issue emergency appeals for help.

But this winter, the pandemic has pushed the situation well beyond that.

Last week, Kansas reported 55,000 new cases of the coronavirus – more than double the weekly case counts from the worst period of the pandemic last winter.

The sheer amount of COVID-19 circulating here and nationally keeps far more people at home than even a bad flu year. They’re sick, in quarantine or trying to avoid the germs to protect themselves and their families.

HCA Midwest Health’s chief medical officer, Kimberly Megow, calls the situation “unprecedented” — yet another stressor on the health care system.

“One trauma patient who needs a massive blood transfusion,” Megow said in an emailed statement, “can deplete a good portion of a hospital’s blood supply.”

To cope, HCA Midwest facilities shuffle supplies among themselves on a daily basis to get the blood to where it’s needed.

HCA Midwest runs seven hospitals in the Kansas City region, 10 emergency rooms and several trauma and cancer centers. It delivers more babies than any other health system in the area.

In short, it needs a lot of blood. For car accident victims. Emergency C-sections. Cancer care.

And though last winter brought a shortage, too, Megow says hospitals also used less blood then. Many people stayed home instead of seeking health care, and hospitals postponed non-emergency surgeries to cope with the influx of COVID patients.

To be sure, some of that is happening now, she says. HCA Midwest hospitals are delaying some surgeries as the region’s third major wave of COVID continues.

But facilities are also seeing more car accident victims and treating a backlog of patients who put off care last year. More blood supplies are needed.

A time of mixed emotions

This marks the fifth year of the annual drives that Katie Scott started and that have come to involve donation sites in multiple cities. Over the last four years, the drives collected enough blood to impact nearly 3,000 lives.

Ryan Scott remembers what the planning meant to his wife in her final weeks and days.

She recruited donors. She logged in to the event portal over and over, watching the growing list of those who pledged to give, and sending reminders to others in hopes of attracting more.

“She would literally be on that, I mean, every 20 minutes,” Ryan said. “She’d refresh and she’d see which friends signed up, which family signed up.”

The day after she died, her family grieved while donating as she had wanted.

For them, each year’s event remains a day of mixed emotions. It comes at the time of year when they lost Katie.

“But then you also see the impact of how many people (the drive) is helping,” Ryan said. “You see family, you see friends. So it’s kind of like a celebration, too, of an incredible life.”

Naturally outgoing, her warmth toward others led to relationships with people all across Renaissance Financial, the firm where she worked.

So although her roots were in the Kansas City area — where she attended Holy Spirit Catholic School and Bishop Miege High School, then Benedictine College — colleagues run blood drives to carry out her vision in St. Louis, Omaha and Phoenix, too.

This year her family will also unveil two new Red Cross vans made possible by a GoFundMe campaign that swiftly raised more than $100,000 to honor Katie’s memory. Those will shore up the fleet of vehicles in the Midwest that shuttle blood from donation sites to blood banks.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

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