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Community Labs testing at Laredo ISD middle school

Community Labs, which performs COVID-19 PCR tests for schools and businesses, is expanding to school districts in Laredo and San Marcos.

The testing laboratory is located in the Headquarters Building, and Community Labs announced last month that it is expanding its capabilities to 50,000 tests a day, up from 15,000.

The first testing in Laredo was done at Lamar Middle School, and the Laredo ISD produced a video with school and Community Labs officials, as well as students.

The goal of Community Labs testing is to make schools “safe zones” by identifying asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.

South Texas Blood & Tissue Center opens helicopter landing pad

Helipad to resupply blood for emergency medical providers, aid in major trauma care 

To aid in the emergency use and delivery of blood in South Texas, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has built the first helicopter landing pad for a blood center in the state. 

The landing site, which is between the BioBridge Global Headquarters Building and its Annex Building on San Antonio’s northwest side, is designed to serve two purposes: 

  • Allow medical helicopters that carry specially screened units of whole blood to restock supplies as needed 
  • Provide a location for helicopters to pick up blood for delivery to major trauma events or natural disasters 

“Making this option available is just part of our commitment to saving lives,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global.  “Since we serve such a large area, it just made sense to provide this to helicopter operators as an option.” 

The center helped launch a first-of-its-kind civilian system for using whole blood on helicopters more than two years ago. That system since has expanded to EMS units in multiple South Texas fire departments, including the San Antonio Fire Department, as well as hospital emergency rooms across the 40-plus counties the center serves. 

Specially screened type O-positive blood donations for the program come through the blood center’s Brothers in Arms program

“The landing pad also could help us quickly supply blood in the case of a mass casualty or weather event as part of the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, the new national emergency blood supply system,” Mendoza said.  

Emergency deliveries could be made within the operating range of the helicopters to medical facilities or remote locations, she said. 

Previously, whole blood used on medical emergency helicopters was restocked via van delivery by the center’s Hospital Services team. (That option still remains open to the 12 agencies that operate the helicopters.) 

But helicopters often cannot wait at either of the city’s level I trauma centers because of the high cost of operations and the potential for additional emergency needs for the hospitals’ helipads. 

“We couldn’t always make those connections,” said John Barry, Director, Hospital Relations and Distribution for the blood center. “When they would go back without blood, then we would have to figure out that night or the morning after how we were going to get blood back to them.” 

Restocking by ground delivery wasn’t a major issue for local agencies, but the whole blood program also is on helicopters as far away as Laredo and Carrizo Springs. Having a place for those helicopters to land and restock before returning to base just made sense, he said. 

Barry, who was part of a similar system for whole blood use on medical emergency helicopters while in the military, worked with one medical helicopter operator to identify a location for the landing pad in a little-used parking lot. 

“We got on Google Maps (of the parking lots) and we put it on the big screen,” Barry said. “We said, ‘Well, you can land two helicopters here.’ That was how the plan started.”  

He then learned about the technical requirements, including lights, a windsock, a new asphalt base and markings, and the project was completed in less than a month. 

The idea originated during a meeting with the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, an organization designed to develop, implement and maintain regional trauma and emergency healthcare system for 22 counties in South Texas. 

GenCure reaches out to East Side community

The team at GenCure biomanufacturing is becoming a part of the rapidly growing community on San Antonio’s East Side.

After seeing a flyer about the nearby Martinez Street Women’s Center needing items for its after-school programs, members of the team filled two empty offices with donations from snacks to sporting goods.

“One of the goals of Velocity TX and Merchants Ice was to be part of the revival of the East Side, and this was a great opportunity for us to make a difference,” said Becky Cap, Chief Operating Officer, GenCure.

The Martinez Street Women’s Center provides health services, youth programs and advocacy opportunities for women and girls.

“This won’t be the last time we do something like this,” said Amanda Whitelonis, Program Manager, GenCure. “We want to support the organizations and small businesses that are our neighbors.”

Community Labs expanding capabilities to 50,000 COVID-19 tests a day 

Community Labs, the COVID-19 rapid-testing laboratory working in partnership with BioBridge Global, soon will be able to boost testing from 15,000 to 50,000 samples a day. 

The nonprofit laboratory made the announcement on Friday, Sept. 17, its one-year anniversary. Community Labs, which now has processed more than 1 million COVID-19 tests, is focused on helping schools safely return students to the classroom, allowing parents to return to work and communities to recover.  

“BioBridge Global is thrilled to have played a role in bringing this groundbreaking service to our community,” said Martin Landon, Chief Executive Officer of BioBridge Global. 

The increase in daily capacity is the result of a testing method called pooling used in QualTex Laboratories, a subsidiary of BioBridge Global, Landon said. The additional testing capacity comes just a year after the entire testing process was set up in the span of two months. 

“The speed at which our team was able to develop a functioning laboratory was remarkable,” said Community Labs co-founder Graham Weston. “In 60 days, we went from an idea to piloting the concept of assurance testing.”  

Community Labs is providing highly accurate PCR (polymerase chain reaction) screening at 350 school campuses across Bexar County, as well as six college campuses, said Sal Webber, President of Community Labs. 

“What we’ve learned this year is that virus transmission is not happening in the schools that implement assurance testing,” Webber said. “During the 2020-2021 school year we saw an average positivity rate in schools of 0.5%, well below the more than 10% positivity rate we saw at public testing sites.” 

Results from the highly accurate PCR tests are coming back in an average of 19 hours, allowing schools to quickly identify those who test positive and isolate them from the general population. 

Dr. Rachel Beddard, Chief Medical Officer at BioBridge Global, said the need for testing will continue to grow. 

“To help meet this need, we are significantly expanding our Community Labs testing capacity, from 15,000 a day now to more than 50,000 tests a day within the next two weeks,” she said. “We’re able to accomplish this by adopting a process for pooling test samples that is similar to how we perform high-volume screening of blood and plasma donor samples for hepatitis, HIV, West Nile and other viruses.” 

Community Labs was co-founded in 2020 by Weston, former CEO and chairman of Rackspace Technology and founder of the 80|20 Foundation; J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman and trustee of The Tobin Endowment; and J. Tullos Wells, managing director of The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation. 

South Texas Blood & Tissue Center joins nation’s first emergency blood reserve

Partnership of seven community blood centers launches blood emergency program in commemoration of 20th anniversary of 9/11

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global, is helping to launch a first-in-the-nation partnership to ensure blood will be available in mass trauma situations and natural disasters. 

Blood centers have faced nationwide blood shortages as thousands of blood drives have been cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic, straining the national safety net.  

While in the past, blood centers had inventory on hand to quickly share with other communities in a blood emergency, today this backup supply plan is increasingly unstable. As the primary blood supplier for the region, South Texas Blood & Tissue Center collaborated with other blood centers to create the new program to be proactive in emergency planning – both for mass trauma events that require large volumes of blood, and for natural disasters such as hurricanes that can cripple blood collections.

“The blood emergency program is an opportunity to engage socially minded individuals, community leaders and major employers to work with us and ensure blood is available in the case of mass trauma situations – whether that’s a major accident, a mass shooting such as Sutherland Springs, or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or the 2021 Texas ice storm,” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.

The Blood Emergency Readiness Corps is made up of blood centers from five states that have committed to collecting extra blood units on a rotating, “on-call” schedule. The extra blood products will be held in reserve for any critical-need scenario.

If no emergency situation arises, the blood products will be returned to South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s general inventory, to be used for local needs.

“This is the first step in the right direction to being prepared for the unthinkable situation,” said Dr. Donald Jenkins, with UT Health/University Health System Trauma Care. “Being ready with a supply of blood for the communities is a great idea.”

The program includes the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, We Are Blood (serving the Austin area), Carter BloodCare (Dallas), Houchin Community Blood Bank (Southern California), Oklahoma Blood Institute, the Community Blood Center (Wisconsin), and Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank.

The announcement of the partnership came on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“While it is a solemn occasion, recognizing 20 years since 9/11, it’s probably very appropriate that we have the recognition that we are still in this together,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

To schedule a blood donation visit SouthTexasBlood.org or call 210-731-5590. You also may call University Hospital’s donor center at 210-358-2812 or visit DonateBloodToday.com.

Former STBTC advocate earns gold medal at Tokyo Paralympics

First-time Paralympian claims medal

Jillian Williams, who was featured in 2017 as an STBTC advocate for blood donations while undergoing cancer treatment, is coming home from the Paralympics in Tokyo with a gold medal.

Williams, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2016 while playing volleyball at Texas Lutheran University and lost part of her left leg, was a member of the 2021 U.S. sitting volleyball team that defeated China 3-1 in the gold-medal match in one of the final events of the Paralympics. It was her first trip to the Paralympics, which were Aug. 24-Sept. 5.

Click here to read more about the gold-medal game.

Team USA captures the gold. Williams wears jersey number 11.

Advocate for blood donations

Williams spoke to STBTC team members and encouraged the community to give blood while she was recovering from surgery and undergoing chemotherapy. She received blood and platelets transfusions during her treatment.

To help her remain active after her treatment, she and her parents chose a procedure called rotationplasty, where the cancerous portion of her leg was amputated and the bottom of her calf and foot were reattached, letting her ankle act as a knee.

Her first international competition in sitting volleyball came in 2018, when Team USA took a silver medal. The graduate of Sinton High School earned a degree in marketing at the University of Central Oklahoma. 

There’s more of her story at her official page on the U.S. Olympic Committee website.

Since her recovery, Williams has started a foundation called Live n Leap that helps fulfill needs and dreams to adolescent and young adult patients with life-threatening illnesses.

San Antonio City Council announces ‘SA District Challenge’ blood drive winner

Friendly competition helps fight summer blood shortage

San Antonio City Council District 4, represented by Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia, is the winner of the second “SA District Challenge” blood drive competition held in August.

Community members who participated in the contest among members of the City Council made 250 blood donations to help the community blood supply.

District 1, represented by Mario Bravo, finished second, followed by District 8, which is represented by Manny Pelaez.

The challenge helped meet community blood requests from hospitals during the summer blood shortage. The competition was first organized by councilmember Ana Sandoval and her staff, in conjunction with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. In addition to saving lives, each blood donation was matched with $10 donations to provide classroom supplies for schools within each district.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues for rallying their communities for such a worthy cause. Our efforts will save lives,” Sandoval said. “If you weren’t able to donate, I encourage you to schedule a donation soon. The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center needs our continued support.”

Blood donations decline during the summer, as high schools and colleges are on break or canceled their drives due to the pandemic. But the demand for blood in South Texas and across the nation doesn’t slow down, and patient needs continue to outpace donations.

To help with the blood donation campaign, businesses, schools and even patients helped share the word like Greg, a husband and father of two who needs blood transfusions as he battles leukemia.

“Thank you to Greg for sharing his story and inspiring donors to give the gift of life,” Bravo said. “A total of 49 donors, including 15 first-time participants, contributed to this event. We are excited to partner with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center once again for another blood drive at Central Catholic High School on Thursday, Oct. 7.”

“I’m grateful to our District 4 community for answering this call for help as we raise awareness and encourage those who can to donate to the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center,” Rocha Garcia said. “Although this friendly competition with my council colleagues may have been the motivation, I’m amazed to see the level of compassion and generosity exhibited by our residents from all parts of San Antonio. I’m especially grateful to the Southwest ISD team for being valued community partners ready to help and serve our residents.”

“I want to thank my neighbors who came out to support our efforts to save lives by donating blood at the District 8 blood drive and the other City Council events,” Pelaez said. “It is critical that we continue to roll up our sleeves and donate blood. Without these daily donations, surgeries are postponed, cancer patients can’t get their treatments, and lives are unnecessarily put at risk. Donating blood costs the donor nothing except a little bit of time, and in return one donation can save as many as three lives. Please consider donating today.”

Donors who were unable to donate during the SA District Challenge can still give at a South Texas Blood & Tissue Center drive or donor room. Make an appointment by visiting SouthTexasBlood.org or calling 210-731-5590.

Phlebotomist wins Collections Team Member national award

A STBTC team member’s customer service, leadership, and support of the mission of saving lives has led to a national award: Donor Collections Team Member of the Year.

Jonah Noriega, Lead Donor Care Specialist on bloodmobiles, received the award from The Association of Donor Relations Professionals (ADRP) “to recognize the valuable role collections plays in the donor experience.”

“This award makes me feel like I’m achieving my goals,” he said. He has been with South Texas Blood & Tissue Center since 2019.

His past customer service experience in hospitality proved useful.

“When I started here, I never worked in a blood center,” said Jonah. “But I had a real hand in collection, so I did good with picking up techniques and learned quick.”

In 2020, with a decrease of blood drives because of COVID-19, Jonah still screened 1,716 donors, collected 1,086 whole blood donors with a First Time Right blood draw of 97.4%, and added 76 double red blood cell units.

For Jonah, the most interesting place for a blood drive has been at Lubbock.

“The drives are really big and for a couple of days,” said Jonah.

“There’s a lot of motivation to do the conversion to double red cells and we see a lot of people.”

In fact, Jonah and his team worked closely with Donor Recruitment to deliver 174 units from UMC Health System in Lubbock. Both donors and the blood drive chairperson were happy with the team effort.

Working during the pandemic made blood donations extra special.

“What keeps me working is to end the blood shortage,” said Jonah.

“There’s so many people that don’t donate unfortunately. But I look forward to the challenge to keep saving lives when it’s most needed.”

As to the future, his next goal is Senior Lead Donor Care Specialist.Pictures from the celebration

Jonah’s ADRP nomination

Jonah is a go-getter. He enjoys helping others. When he is out at a blood drive he gives more than 100% in everything he does. Some say he is competitive but I say he is productive and motivated. Jonah understands our mission of bridging caring people to patients.

Additionally, Jonah volunteers to pick up extra shifts and is always willing to go on any overnight blood drives.

Lastly, I would like to recognize his attendance. He makes every effort to arrive on time and to every shift he is scheduled for.

Jonah became a Lead Donor Care Specialist in our San Antonio Team in late 2019. Every day that Jonah is scheduled to work, he comes in with a plan for his team. He already has his mind set to exceed projected goals. He is focused on his First Time Right Rate and aims to be the best.

In 2020, with a decrease of donors due to COVID-19, Jonah screened 1,716 donors, collected 1,086 whole blood donors with a First Time Right of 97.4 percent, and was able to add 76 double red blood cell units to our inventory. Jonah has received the High Performer award which was earned by consistently following our SOPs and delivering quality products for our patients.

Jonah is our team cheerleader. He meets and greets every donor that walks into his blood drives. He provides a superior donor experience by giving them more than they expect. Jonah will even step in for a selfie with a donor. When a donor is scared, he will offer a hand to hold or a few words of encouragement. Jonah gives his undivided attention to each and every donor he meets. Jonah ensures his donors are well taken care of and that they want to come back to give their lifesaving gift over and over again.

Jonah’s internal customer service is no different. He takes the time to greet his coworkers with a huge smile and a big hello. He enjoys collaborating with our Donor Recruiters to ensure our blood drives are productive and are running efficiently. In November 2020, Jonah worked closely with one of our Donor Recruitment Supervisors and together they delivered 174 units from UMC Health System in Lubbock. The donors and chairperson were very happy with the team effort.

In March of 2020, we were hit by COVID-19 and our productivity decreased. This did not stop Jonah from wanting to be the best Lead Donor Care Specialist. He assisted where he was needed and took every opportunity to learn from some of the very best leaders here. Jonah leads by example by speaking and acting with honesty and integrity.

When he sees a team member struggling, he will quickly jump in and offer his assistance with a positive and professional attitude. Without being asked to, Jonah has taken the time to mentor two of his team members and provided feedback to his supervisor. Jonah is hungry for more and seeks opportunities to make his team the best.

San Antonio City Council sponsors summer blood drives as need for blood continues to outpace donations

Blood donors can save lives while helping to raise funds for classrooms in August

As hospital orders continue to outpace blood donations, members of the San Antonio City Council have announced the “Summer District Challenge” from Aug. 9-13.

Each Council member will sponsor a blood drive in their district with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, competing to bring in the most donors. In addition to saving lives, each blood donation will result in $10 donated to provide classroom supplies for schools within the district. Blood donors also will be thanked with a $10 gift card by email that can be used in person or online at hundreds of stores and restaurants.

The summer, when donors are on vacation and there are fewer blood drives, is among the slowest times for blood donations, according to the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global. The situation is critical this summer, as hospital orders for blood have increased while donations continue to be impacted by the pandemic, leading to a nationwide blood shortage.

“The help of City Council comes at a time when the community blood supply is lower than we’ve ever seen it, ” said Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Operations, South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. “We need the support of the community to meet the growing requests for blood to serve our hospitals and their patients.”

The first City Council-sponsored blood drive competition was organized this past January by District 7 City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, whose district brought in the most donations and won the challenge.

“I appreciate my council colleagues for joining in on this friendly competition. Together, our efforts will help save lives,” said Councilwoman Sandoval. “May the best member win!”

Blood drives included in the Summer District Challenge are:

  • Mario Bravo, District 1: Central Catholic High School on Aug. 10
  • Jalen McKee, District 2: TBD
  • Phyllis Viagran, District 3: Embassy Suites Brooks on Aug. 10
  • Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia, District 4: Christa McAuliffe Middle School on Aug. 13
  • Teri Castillo, District 5: Collins Garden Library on Aug. 9
  • Melissa Cabello Havrda, District 6: Courtyard by Marriott SeaWorld on Aug. 12
  • Ana Sandoval, District 7: Crossroads Baptist Church on Aug. 11
  • Manny Peláez, District 8: John Igo Library on Aug. 13
  • John Courage, District 9: San Antonio Shrine Auditorium on Aug. 10
  • Clayton Perry, District 10: Morgan’s Wonderland on Aug. 12

Donors can make an appointment at any of the councilmember’s drives by visiting SouthTexasBlood.org/SAChallenge or calling 210-731-5590.

Blood transfusions are the most frequent procedure performed in U.S. hospitals, requiring more than 33,000 donations per day to meet patient needs. One in seven patients entering the hospital will need at least one transfusion.

The Spiraling Process of Grief

“For in grief nothing ‘stays put’. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I’m on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down?”

C.S. Lewis

Wouldn’t it be great if we could go through the five stages of grief by just checking each one off, one after another?   

Sorry to say that this isn’t going to happen. It’s not how grief works.  

We often hear that “time heals all wounds.” Well-intentioned people tell us to look for closure when it comes to a death loss. However, it’s not that easy, is it?  

Grief is not just a series of stages or tasks or timelines. There is no particular end point, when we can say our grief is “finished.” 

Sometimes it feels like we’re going in a never-ending circle with our grief. But I like to think of grief as more like being on a spiraling path. It moves up and down…in and out… 

Spirals often have a narrow end and a wide end.  When we’re at the narrow end of a grief spiral, things feel like they’re closing in on us. At the wider end, we feel we have more room to breathe. Through it all, we keep moving.  

On your grief journey, there will be times when you feel awful and things will be really difficult for you. Other times you will feel good and life will seem “easier” – it’s all part of the spiral.  

Remember, wherever you are on your grief journey spiral, you are not alone. I am here to journey with you, to hold space with you.  

You can reach me at 210-757-9428 during business hours, or you can email me.