People searching for a way to help the victims of the devastation in New York and Washington poured into Chicago area hospitals and blood banks on Tuesday, stretching the region's blood collection system to its limits.
Volunteers lined the corridors of blood collection centers, sometimes being turned away due to overcrowding or waiting hours for their chance to help. The crush was so heavy that some officials urged people to wait a day or two before going in.
Two trucks containing 500 units of blood products and medical supplies were headed to New Jersey Tuesday evening from Abbott Laboratories, containing blood from donors in Illinois and Wisconsin. Three more trucks with blood and supplies from Abbott and LifeSource Blood Services were to depart for the coast Wednesday.
The intense urge to do something--anything--in response to the horrific images coming from New York and Washington drove Ted Mitchell, 30, to donate blood at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.
"I just had an awful feeling of helplessness," said Mitchell, one of dozens of donors who had come to the Rush blood center by mid-morning. "This was a way I could do something."
At the LifeSource office in Westmont, Carol Majewski of La Grange walked in to give blood and wound up pulling volunteer duty answering the telephone.
"It needed to be answered," said Majewski, a first-time blood donor.
Impromptu blood drives sprang up in virtually every hospital across the region. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge began a drive within hours of the news breaking.
"We've already had 50 to 100 people here," spokeswoman Kim Waterman said. "There are 50 people waiting right now."
Busy signals almost invariably greeted would-be volunteers calling LifeSource and the American Red Cross. The Red Cross was urging groups, churches, organizations and social clubs to sponsor their own blood drives.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. organized a massive blood drive on Wednesday at its headquarters in Hoffman Estates, as well as at a number of its stores across the country.
The company, which has an ongoing relationship with the Red Cross, also donated $1 million in immediate aid as well as generators and other merchandise to the National Guard and relief workers.
It is uncertain how much blood collected in Chicago will go to the attack victims. The Red Cross was offering 80,000 units to the affected areas from donors all over the country. But Dr. Jerry Squires, the group's chief scientific officer, said that supply probably would be swiftly consumed.
People around the country prepared to offer more than blood to the victims.
Federal officials Tuesday took the unprecedented step of activating the National Disaster Medical System on a nationwide basis. More than 7,000 medical personnel around the country were ready to be deployed to the affected areas, including 80 specialized disaster assistance teams.
On Tuesday afternoon more than 300 medical personnel from six eastern states were dispatched to Washington and New York by Tommy Thompson, secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Although Illinois hospitals also were ready to send assistance, HHS officials said it appeared that the help from eastern states would be enough.
The nation's 137 burn centers also prepared to accept patients, according to the American Burn Association's Susan Browning. But no burn centers outside of the New York and Washington regions were receiving patients from the disaster, she said.
Blood appeared to be a more pressing need. Cheryl Balough of LifeSource said New York hospitals had put out a call for plasma and platelets, blood components that are used for surgeries, burn victims and to help clotting. Blood will be sent from the Chicago area on Abbott's refrigerated trucks, and possibly by air later, she said.
An official with the New York Blood Center told The New York Times that the center had a five-day supply of blood before the crashes--normally a "pretty good inventory," the official said.
The National Association of Community Blood Centers, a major supplier of blood in New York City, said it sent about 15,000 pints to the city immediately after the attacks and is working with the military to ship more. Getting the supplies into the city promised to be difficult, with air traffic grounded around the country and most rail and auto traffic into New York City halted.
Within hours of the attacks, Abbott began taking measures unseen in the North Chicago-based company's 113-year history. Its workers loaded trucks with everything from pain medication and antibiotics to IVs and tubing and sent them east. The National Guard and police escorted some of the company's vehicles to hospitals in New York and New Jersey.
There will be a lag of one or two days before blood makes it to the victims. All donations must be tested for diseases such as HIV or hepatitis before they are sent to a hospital.
The nation's blood supply was well stocked before the attack thanks to an aggressive campaign by the American Red Cross. But some said the disaster was an illustration of why blood donation must be ongoing.
"The people who are in need of a transfusion in New York City right now, of which there are probably thousands, they're relying on those who donated on a regular basis," said Dr. Bruce McLeod, medical director of Rush's blood center. "It's wonderful that people come out, but they need to keep coming back, so we always have plenty on hand."
"There will still be an urgent need in a week and still an urgent need in two weeks, and possibly and probably beyond that," said Red Cross spokesman Mark Shields.