Foundation webinar panelists talk about organization providing medical advances and therapies during pandemic

Events of the last 16 months pushed organizations to adapt their operations during a pandemic, and the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has been no exception. 

From managing the cancellation of more than 1,000 blood drives to making an extraordinary donation happen in the middle of a Texas winter storm, the center persevered in providing medical advances and therapies that save and enhance lives through the healing power of human cells and tissue. 

Leaders from the STBTC highlighted success stories from the organization during a webinar sponsored by The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation on Wednesday, April 21. The installment of the Voices of Hope series was entitled “Pushing Forward Together – COVID, Community and Innovations.” 

Blood donation challenges 

The breakdown in blood donations at STBTC donor rooms and mobile drives was completely changed in 2020, noted Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations. 

“In 2020, bloodmobiles began to represent what we usually collect at donor centers, about 40% of donations, so we wound up depending more on those brick-and-mortar centers,” she said. “As a result, access to new donors, who usually come from high schools, colleges and businesses on mobile drives, was limited.” 

The center came to rely more on its existing donor base to meet community needs. Those needs have been growing as well this year – requests for blood from the 11 largest hospitals in the region in March were up 31% from 2020, and demand in the first quarter was up 10% overall. 

Mendoza attributed the increase to people delaying healthcare procedures because of the pandemic, as well as dramatic population growth in suburban areas and an aging population. 

“We actually collected more blood than in 2019, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand,” she said. 

Family support continues 

Despite not being able to conduct in-person events, the Grief Support and Life Legacies Program, which works with families of tissue donors, continued to provide counseling, said Kimberly Monroe, Manager of Business Development in STBTC Tissue Development. 

“Donation offers hope for a second chance,” she said. “It can turn loss into legacy, tragedy into triumph. Nothing we do at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is possible without the generosity of donors, and in the case of our tissue donors, the donor families.” 

Susan Smith, Grief Support and Life Legacies Manager, made numerous adjustments to programs in the last year, from expanding digital outreach to helping set up a Facebook group for donor families, Monroe said. 

The Donate Life Texas registry for organ, eye and tissue donors also reached a significant milestone in 2020, reaching 13 million registered donors, she said. 

“An organ donor can save eight lives, an eye donor can help two different people and a tissue donor can make a difference for up to 75,” Monroe said.  

Perseverance rewarded 

One of the more-dramatic healthcare stories from the 2021 winter storm in South Texas involved the center’s stem cell donor program, said Vivienne Marshall, Director, Clinical and  Research Operations. 

As reported in an extensive story on Spectrum News, the center worked with the National Marrow Donor Program (also known as Be The Match) and the San Antonio Fire Department to get a stem cell donor from Eagle Pass to San Antonio, even as roads were closed because of snow and ice. 

Be The Match found a helicopter willing to bring the donor – who already had started a process to increase stem cells in his bloodstream – from Eagle Pass to San Antonio, and a fire marshal brought him to the center’s cellular therapy center. His donation was driven from San Antonio to Dallas, then shipped internationally to Chile for a 3-year-old girl. 

“She received the transplant in March, but of course it’s too early to tell how it will all come out,” Marshall said. “I just feel privileged to be part of this organization, to be able to contribute for patients.” 

Webinar Q&A 

Q: Would there be a possibility of getting a guest speaker to come out and speak to our employees about the importance of donating blood? 
A: Absolutely! Contact us here and reference that you’d like to coordinate a speaking/education event. We’d be glad to support this. 

Q: How do they preserve the blood on the vehicles for Brothers in Arms and what is the shelf life? 
A: Each medical unit has a transporter to maintain the unit in its proper temperature condition, and these are validated for the time frame required between temperature checks. The shelf life is 35 days. 

Q: Do you work with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry or do you have your own separate registry
A: We partner with the National Marrow Donor Program also known as Be The Match. There are registries all over the world, so when a patient searches for a match, doctors search all registries to make a lifesaving transplant possible. 

Q: I believe low titer O whole blood is tested for anti A, B, not Rh? 
A: You’re correct! Anti-A and Anti-B are verified. 

Q: I’ve donated double red cells for many years on bloodmobiles at OneBlood in Florida. Why are double reds not available to be collected on bloodmobiles? 
A: Thank you for that question. We do have the capability of donating double red cells on mobile drives and at donor centers. We do use the instruments and technology depending on the need, so if we are low on Type O blood for instance, we encourage the double red cell donation there. 

Q: If there is such a need for whole blood, why don’t they increase how often a donor can donate? I’ve donated as often as soon as the center allowed (8 weeks) and then was told I’d have to wait 4 months before I could again. 
A: We currently have limits placed by the FDA. There are discussions on evaluating these guidelines. We are so grateful for your generosity! Donation frequency is as follows: 

  • Whole blood donors must wait at least 8 weeks between donations 
  • Dual red cell donors must wait at least 16 weeks 
  • Platelet donors must wait 1 week in between donations 
  • Convalescent plasma can be in intervals as short as 5 days 

Q: Why should I donate blood and what are the benefits? 

A: STBTC needs to collect an adequate blood supply for more than 100 hospitals in 40 South Texas counties. We depend on volunteer blood donors to make this happen. Also, blood is perishable and there is no substitute. With each donation, you receive a mini-physical (pulse, temperature and iron check), earn donor points and redeem them for a free gift card of your choice on our rewards store and the satisfaction that comes from saving lives. 

Q: Do you take financial donations as well?  
A: Yes. You can make financial gifts at BloodnTissueFoundation.org and learn more about the different programs you can give to. 

Q: How can someone get involved in hosting a blood drive or donating blood
A: They can find out more at SouthTexasBlood.org  

Q: I’m a regular donor and just received my first COVID shot. How long after my second shot do I have to wait to donate? 
A: There is no wait time to donate. 

Q: Can you tell me about the Connect for Life program and how I can share the information with my peers? 
A:  You can follow us on our social media pages @connectforlife on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and South Texas Blood & Tissue Center on LinkedIn

Q: What would be the first step to coordinate a blood drive in a neighborhood community? 
A: Learn about coordinating a blood drive by contacting us here

Q: Are company onsite blood drives back on? 
A: Yes. We can visit your location through our mobile blood donation teams. We have options to use a bus or set up inside your location, as space permits.  

Q: Besides blood drives, how can companies partner with you? 
A: We always need help sharing information about the need for blood and tissue donors, and a great way to help is to share information we post on social media. Please follow us @connectforlife on Facebook or Instagram. Financial contributions also are a great way to help. More information on ways to give can be found here. 

Q: What can be done to raise platelet count for donation? 
A: Eating certain foods that support platelet production can help. 

Q: Does the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center have a cord blood bank? 
A: Yes! The Texas Cord Blood Bank, the state’s only public cord blood bank, is located at the headquarters campus.  

Q: What does it mean if a COVID antibody test results in positive? 
A: A positive antibody tests indicates that the test method was able to detect the presence of antibodies in the sample. If there are antibodies present it means you were likely infected or exposed to the virus, which triggered the response of your immune system to protect you through developing the antibodies. 

Q: How can someone confirm they are still on the marrow registry if they have registered with a cheek swab years ago?  
A: Go here to update your information. It is not possible to predict how long it will take to receive a call to donate, but while you are waiting please ensure that your contact information is current. Thank you for signing up for the registry!