SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Many people trying to donate blood recently have been turned away due to social distancing restrictions placed on blood banks during the coronavirus pandemic. But a pair of UCSF medical students recently organized several packed blood drives, helping patients like a little boy from Moraga fighting a battle against leukemia.
His name is Christopher Beggs. He’s just four years old.
“He is a very fun, smart little boy who loves most of all to do Legos and homework,” said his mom, Erin Beggs.
He suffers from a common type of childhood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL. He has been fighting ALL for about two and a half years.
His leukemia — once in remission — is back. That means more stays at the UCSF hospital and many more transfusions of blood and platelets.
“So he’s essentially alive right now because of people’s donations,” said Erin.
But with COVID-19, blood banks follow strict guidelines on social distancing. That means fewer people can donate on any given day.
“There has been thousands of drives that have been cancelled nationally,” UCSF medical student Anya Greenberg.
Churches, schools and gyms — all locations where drives are regularly held — have also been closed, further squeezing the supply.
Greenberg and her fellow UCSF medical student Hope Schwartz were able to locate a big enough room at the schools student union and set up a series of blood drives.
“We are fortunate here that we have quite a big space that was easy to set up,” said Schwartz.
Dr. Mignon Loh is a pediatric oncologist who works at UCSF. She says the blood drives set up by the two students are providing a lifeline.
“I’m so impressed by them, I have to tell you,” said Dr. Loh. “While this pandemic is swirling around us, there are many patients like Christopher who need these blood products.”
The student-organized blood drives at UCSF were held two days last week, bringing in 51 donors mostly made up of UCSF staff, doctors, nurses and students. While there are additional blood drives set up for three more days next week, they have already been completely booked up with donors.
The blood will go to anyone in need.
“Everything we’ve been through just shows what a great community we live in and that you know the goodness in people’s hearts is there,” said Erin Begg.
A spokesperson for blood donation non-profit Vitalant told KPIX News that if any regular longtime donors who had an appointment to give blood cancelled should be aware that hospitals and patients are still in dire need. Blood banks are getting around to calling donors to reschedule.
Blood has a short shelf life, with red blood cells lasting 42 days and plasma lasting only five days.