The Washington area is suffering a critical shortage of a crucial blood type as the D.C. Council plays catch-up with Maryland and Virginia to allow 16-year-olds to donate blood with a parent's consent.

The summer months, when many residents head out off to the beach or somewhere cooler, are often the slowest time for blood donations even as the need rises, officials said.

The American Red Cross said this week that the supply for the universal donor blood type 0 negative has reached critically low levels in the Washington area. Type O negative is considered the universal blood type, as it can be used by people in any blood group.

A bill proposed by D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas is designed to help alleviate the shortage.

Since February, the D.C. City Council has been examining the possibility of allowing the D.C. Health Department to pass regulations that would change the minimum blood donation age from 17 to 16. Current regulations allow 17-year-olds to donate blood without a parent's consent; the change would allow 16-year-olds to donate with a parent's consent. Virginia, Maryland and 35 other states already allow 16-year-olds to donate.

"Donations have been dropping," said Wendy Paul, associate director of transfusion medicine at Children's National Medical Center. "By lowering the age we'll increase the donor pool and put new, young donors into the pipeline."

But a 2008 American Red Cross study said looking to younger donors, who are most susceptible to complications, can result in turning teens off from donating if they faint from their first time.

The study found that 10.7 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds suffered from adverse reactions when they donated blood. That that's three times as many as adults ages 20 and over, the study said.

Paul, however, noted that though there exists a statistical difference between the reactions of young teens and adults, there is little difference between 16- and 17-year-olds.

"In many cases the bad reactions are just a bad case of nerves," Paul said.

For 14-year-old Michael Ogunjimi, of the District, the age change could mean blood is always available when he needs a monthly transfusion so he can live with sickle cell anemia. The blood disease, which primarily affects African-Americans, is deadly without regular infusions.

The age change "will give hope to someone like me," Ogunjimi told council members during a public hearing Tuesday afternoon. "I thank God I am alive today. I am always grateful to people in our community who give blood."


To donate ยป  Contact the American Red Cross at 800-GIVE-LIFE (448-3543)