Ruiz’s ‘miracle story’ inspires him to advocate for blood donations

As the president of a bank and a trustee at a major university and large hospital system, Manny Ruiz tends to choose his words carefully. 

But he wasn’t hesitant to use the word “miracle” repeatedly when he described his battle with COVID-19 with members of the board of directors of The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation on Monday, May 17. 

In addition to a positive COVID-19 test in December, he also was diagnosed with double pneumonia. He had several close calls during his five days in the hospital, including one that required an emergency blood transfusion. 

His recovery has been long – he just recently went back to work as president of TexStar Bank and resumed his duties as a board of trustee at Baylor University. 

“This was a blessing in a lot of ways, because it’s allowed me to talk about my family and my faith,” he said. “And it’s allowed me to share stories about the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and the COVID vaccine. 

“Do I like the journey that allowed me to do this? No, but it is a miracle. In being a miracle, I have to see the good and the blessings out of it.” 

Not long after he was admitted to Baptist Hospital in San Antonio – where he also is a trustee – and before he was put on a ventilator, Ruiz “coded” – his heart stopped for four minutes. Another minute could have led to brain damage, he said. 

“Those are things you think about after the fact,” he said. “Really, you’re just focused on living. ‘I just want to live and spend more time with my family.’ It was just a miracle there.” 

A little after two days at Baptist, Ruiz was transferred to Methodist Hospital and placed on an ECMO device, which essentially takes over functions of the heart and lungs to allow the body to heal. He was later told that just 40% of COVID-19 patients survive on that last-ditch therapy. 

And then the device malfunctioned and had to be replaced. A significant quantity of blood was left in the first device, which meant he needed a blood transfusion. 

“That was my first experience with the work done by the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center,” he said. “A lot of people, they drive by, they hear about it, but they don’t think much about it till they themselves or a family member is a recipient of blood.” 

That miracle led Ruiz to become a passionate advocate for blood donations. He put together a blood drive for Baylor alumni in San Antonio and has been working on organizing drives throughout Texas. 

“We’re bringing awareness and we’re talking it,” he said. “I did an interview on TV over this; it’s not about Manny and this miracle story, it’s really been about the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. 

“I’m just one person who got sick with COVID. But there are thousands of others in our community who get sick with other things. And there’s a vital role that the center plays in their treatment.” 

Why we ask what we ask on the blood donor questionnaire

A recent blood donor was curious about the series of questions we ask before every donation, questions that at times can seem very personal.

It’s simple: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for protecting the health of both donors and patients, requires us to ask them.

They’re part of a multi-layered system designed by the FDA and blood centers across the nation to keep the blood supply as safe as possible. By the way, you can fill out the questionnaire online, at home, the day of your donation.

The questions help us find out if you’re in good health and free of any diseases that could be transmitted via transfusion.

In addition to the donor screening questionnaire, the safety system also includes:

  • Testing for signs of infectious diseases, including hepatitis and the virus that causes AIDS
  • Regularly updated lists of donors who have been asked not to give for one reason or another
  • Quarantine of all donated blood until testing is complete
  • Thorough investigations of problems with the handling or testing of donated blood

More about blood safety is outlined on the websites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Association of Blood Banks.

Here’s the reasoning behind some of the questions on the questionnaire, which is updated periodically to follow new guidance from the FDA:

  • Travel: We ask where you have been outside the United States to make sure you haven’t been exposed to diseases or neurological conditions that were (or are) found in some parts of the world.
  • Unsafe activities: We ask about what the FDA has determined to be unsafe activities, which could lead to conditions like hepatitis or an HIV infection.
  • Vaccines: We ask about vaccinations because some vaccines (though not the current ones for COVID-19) are made with an inactivated form of a virus that could cause a reaction in some patients.