Ruth Ann Burns led an active lifestyle with no health concerns, until her life was flipped upside down by a diagnosis in June 2021 — Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer.

Since then, the 77-year-old has seen firsthand the impacts of a statewide and nationwide drop in blood donations prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Sometimes I'd be in the chair waiting for 6 hours, 7 hours, 8 hours, before they could find blood," Ruth Ann told New Jersey 101.5. "A couple times I had to be sent home because they didn't have my blood type ... and I had to come back the next day."

At the beginning of her cancer journey, the Monmouth Junction resident was in need of three blood transfusions per week. Her blood type is A negative, and only 1 in 16 people have A negative blood, according to American Red Cross.

Ruth Ann says she "felt the shortage" more in the fall. At one point, she reached out to her network at Rutgers University, her alma mater, for blood donations, and the community rallied to get her the supply she needed.

Blood collection in New Jersey is down by more than 25% since late summer due to the continued impacts of COVID-19 on donation rates, according to RWJBarnabas Health.

Sally Wells, blood services business development liaison for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, said there had been an uptick in donations during 2021, but another surge in cases forced the cancellation of many blood drives, especially at high schools and colleges.

"Many of these schools have not run blood drives since early 2020 and now to lose them again has been quite devastating," Wells said. "The continued attention on omicron and the constant concern about how easily it spreads is causing great reluctance on behalf of donors to schedule appointments."

RWJBarnabas Health is allowing blood drives in its hospital facilities and is allowing community participation, even though visitor policies have changed.

American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation's blood supply, says it is facing a "national blood crisis." There's been a 10% drop in collection since March 2020, and some hospitals may not receive a quarter of the blood products they need. You can visit here to make a blood-donation appointment with Red Cross.

Ruth Ann is in partial remission today. She says she needs blood transfusions about once per month, and regularly worries about whether or not the blood is going to be on hand. For that reason, she's calling on New Jersey residents to be less hesitant about donating blood.

"It's really a great opportunity to do something positive and to help somebody, and it's very safe," she said.

According to American Red Cross, every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood or platelets, for cancer treatments, childbirth, car accidents and other traumatic events. One donation can help save more than one life.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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