Manny Ruiz

Like many people, Manny Ruiz drove by the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center headquarters on a regular basis and never really gave much thought to what happened there.

Until he needed an emergency blood transfusion.

“You don’t appreciate it until you go through it and experience it,” he said. “I’ll never look at those things the same way.”

Ruiz, who is President and Chief Lending Officer at TexStar Bank, was hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19, complicated by double pneumonia, in January. Because he didn’t have any pre-existing conditions – and in fact, was a marathon runner and in excellent physical shape – he was selected for critical treatment with an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (better known as ECMO) machine.

The ECMO pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body, taking on the role of a person’s heart and lungs, and it only is used in a small number of severe cases of COVID-19.

At one point during his care, the ECMO malfunctioned, and he had to be switched to a different machine.

“In doing that, there was some of my blood left in the other machine,” Ruiz said. “If it hadn’t been for the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center having that blood to give to me … well, that was very big.”

Ruiz spent just a handful of days on the device. He is now at home and recovering. His near-death experience, along with his work on the Baptist Hospital System board of directors, has given him a special perspective on blood donations.

“The doctors, they’re constantly saying we have shortages of blood, encouraging us to give, and if we don’t give, what’s going to happen – we can’t save lives,” he said. “That resonates with me, because I could have died.

“And so I thought, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is so important. There needs to be awareness. People need to come to understand, appreciate and help your cause because it’s important, and it was important to my recovery.”

Ruiz has sponsored a drive for fellow alumni of Baylor University, where he serves on the board of regents, but he’s also challenging organizations across San Antonio and South Texas to hold blood drives to make up more than 1,000 canceled blood drives since the pandemic.

“My challenge, my encouragement is to say ‘don’t just let it stop with Baylor University doing a blood drive, let it be for all universities – let’s all give and let’s all do our part,’” he said. “To me, if you give blood and save a life, personally that’s more important.”

If you would like to schedule a blood donation or have a blood drive, visit SouthTexasBlood.org.