We've heard it all before. Donating blood saves lives, helps people survive debilitating illnesses and major surgery, keeps accident victims alive, helps in critical research. And have you ever heard of a time when blood supplies were plentiful?

The daily reality of blood donations -- thanks, but we'll need more tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the day after that -- has become mere background noise for too many of us.

That changes, of course, the instant a loved one is hurt in a crash, undergoes surgery or is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that requires a constant, never-ending supply of blood.

At such a moment, all the pleas for donations and all the blood drives in the world are not enough.

For most of us, that day never comes. But Betsy Kolarevic knows what it's all about.

Kolarevic's 9-year-old daughter Elena, a fourth-grader at Immaculate Conception Elementary in Traverse City, was born with Diamond-Blackfan anemia, which affects her bone marrow's ability to produce red blood cells. For Elena, donations are life itself.

"She's completely reliant on donors," her mother said. "Truly, it has saved her life."

Elena can't get needed blood from her mom and dad because they don't have the same blood type.

"It's very humbling to us that people are willing to help out a complete stranger," Betsy Kolarevic said.

Elena gets her blood through the northwest chapter of Michigan Community Blood Centers. Director Sharon Childs says the need never ends. "It's not just when there's an emergency, because in order to be prepared for an emergency, we have to have the blood drawn already," she said.

Both Michigan Community Blood Centers and the American Red Cross say regional blood supplies are low, in no small part because of the tough winter. Both programs get a lot of their blood from high school blood drives, and the high number of snow days has hurt. The Red Cross canceled 20 drives because of bad weather, losing an estimated 1,000 donations. Michigan Blood Centers has had to reschedule nine drives since December.

The Red Cross says its goal is to have a three-day supply of blood on hand, but presently has a two-day reserve. Michigan Blood Centers says its supply is 12 percent lower than hoped for.

Both programs say supplies of type O blood -- which can be given to people with other blood types -- are particularly low.

The Red Cross holds blood drives the second Monday of every other month; the next one is planned for April 14 at the Elks Lodge in Traverse City. Their number is (231) 947-7286.

Michigan Community Blood Centers can be reached at (231) 935-3030.

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