To some hospital administrators, summer is "trauma season" - the time when motorcyclists, teenage drivers and amateur home improvers are out in overwhelming numbers, some of them risking severe injury.
Sooner or later, many may find themselves in need of blood transfusions.
Coinciding with this year's trauma season, however, is a severe blood shortage - one that has surpassed even hospitals' and donation agencies' usual yearly expectations.
"It's a nationwide appeal," said Cheryl Gergely, a spokeswoman for the Greater Alleghenies blood Services Region of the American Red Cross. "All the blood agencies in regions across the country are in the same situation."
In a news release, the Red Cross reported that this June's donations were down 50,000 units from the same time last year.
Partly to blame, Gergely said, are the particularly pleasant spring and early summer, which has kept donors preoccupied with outdoor work and vacation.
"People tend to be busy when it's warm outside. It [donating blood] falls down the list of priorities," she said.
Donations usually drop off in summer, when schools are out and large student drives aren't possible. Thirty percent of the region's blood need is met by high school and college students, Gergely said.
But this month's extreme shortage has left hospital administrators considering the possibility of a blood drought, said Joe Pufka, administrative director of Altoona Regional's laboratory.
"I'll tell you what we're seeing: a shortage of the RH-negative donors," Pufka said, referring to an uncommon, much-sought-after blood type that can be used for all patients.
"We treat those units like gold," Pufka said.
Because Altoona's regional trauma center takes in accident victims from as far was as the New York border, a shortage of universal blood could be catastrophic, Pufka said.
Shortages, which administrators have come to expect during summer and over the holidays, can be reversed when donor agencies conduct emergency call and email campaigns, he said.
"When word gets out, when people get the word ... we typically have people who come to the rescue," Pufka said.
Smaller hospitals, meanwhile, sometimes rely on exchange programs to replenish dwindling caches of rare blood types, Nason Hospital Lab Services Director Becky Jacobs said.
"We've had - intermittently - times when it's pretty tight," Jacobs said. "We try to always make sure nothing expires."
Jacobs said a June 13 blood drive at Nason exceeded expectations, leaving open the possibility that increased donations could reverse the shortage.
Only 7 percent of the available population donates blood, said Pufka, noting that if more contributed, the pressure on existing donors could be reduced tremendously.
"Everybody thinks blood is always going to be there," he said. "At some point in time, it's not going to be there."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.