San Antonio twins give blood together

It’s never too late to help others – or too early. 

Twins Sarah and Rebecca Gresham grabbed an opportunity to help as soon as they were able, signing up to give blood after hearing that a drive at Johnson High School was accepting students 16 and older. 

Their inspiration came from their mother, Dr. Rachel Beddard who is the Chief Medical Officer at BioBridge Global, the parent organization of the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center. She regularly tells them about the importance of blood and what could happen in their community when it becomes scarce.  

“I know how bad blood shortages can be,” Rebecca said. “Sometimes, simply because people don’t donate, people in hospitals can die or can’t get the procedures they need. I donated because I wanted to make a difference and give someone a second chance.” 

“I wanted to donate blood because I knew that every unit goes towards bettering or extending the lives of people in my community,” Sarah said. “It is one of the easiest and safest ways to help others and save lives.” 

Just like anyone else who decides to donate for the first time, they were apprehensive about the process. But once at the drive, they felt close with the staff and recognized they were in a safe environment. 

“I was nervous at first, but the staff were so sweet and comforting that they made the experience painless and totally worthwhile,” Sarah said. 

Not only did they find the process easy, they also learned health information about themselves, including their blood type. 

They now have been donating for about six months, with no plans on stopping anytime soon.

What happens to my blood donation?

One frequent question we get asked at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center on a regular basis is “What happens to my donation?”

If you make a whole blood donation – the most common type – your blood is separated into three components: red cells, platelets and plasma. Each are used by doctors for different treatments. You also can donate just platelets or red cells.

Following guidance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, all donations are tested for infectious agents like HIV and hepatitis C by QualTex Laboratories, which like STBTC is a subsidiary of BioBridge Global. In its most recent survey of blood collections and transfusions, the AABB (the blood banks’ trade association) reported that only 0.7% of donations were rejected because of positive test results for infectious diseases.

Once red cells and platelets are cleared and delivered to the hospital, the blood helps hospitals with cancer patients, moms and newborns, accident victims and many other patients.

Here’s a breakdown of how red cells are used, according to the AABB survey:

  • 28.5%: General medicine
  • 19.9%: Surgery
  • 19.2%: Cancer treatment
  • 12.5%: Intensive care unit
  • 9.5%: Emergency room
  • 4.3%: Pediatrics
  • 2.3%: Kidney treatment
  • 2.2%: Obstetrics and gynecology
  • 1.6%: Organ transplants

And here’s how platelets are used:

  • 43.6%: Cancer treatment
  • 15.9%: Surgery
  • 13.0%: Intensive care unit
  • 12.8%: General medicine
  • 7.9%: Pediatrics
  • 3.4%: Emergency room
  • 2.4%: Organ transplants
  • 0.5%: Obstetrics and gynecology
  • 0.3%: Kidney treatment

San Antonio City Council sponsors ‘SA District Challenge’ blood drives

Competition fights blood shortages during pandemic, recognizes National Blood Donor Month

To help meet continuing blood demands and to recognize National Blood Donor Month, San Antonio City Councilmembers have announced an “SA District Challenge” from Jan. 19-22.

The councilmembers will each sponsor a blood drive with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center in their district, competing to see which drive can bring in the most donors. The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, the region’s community blood supplier since 1974, is a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global.

Hospitals typically need more blood in January, as patient procedures that may have been postponed over the holidays are scheduled. The need is especially acute this year, with the community blood supply at dangerously low levels following the cancellation of more than 1,000 blood drives since the start of the pandemic.

The competition was organized by councilmember Ana Sandoval and her staff. Drives included in the first-ever SA District Challenge are:

  • Robert Trevino, District 1: Cano Health on Jan. 21
  • Jada Andrews-Sullivan, District 2:  WestCare Foundation on Jan 20
  • Rebecca J. Viagran, District 3: Embassy Suites by Hilton on Jan. 19
  • Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia, District 4: St. Bonaventure Catholic Church on Jan. 22
  • Shirley Gonzales, District 5: Collins Garden Library on Jan. 19
  • Melissa Cabello Havrda, District 6: Edgewood Fine Arts (Lobby) on Jan. 22
  • Ana Sandoval, District 7: Crossroads Baptist Church on Jan. 21
  • Manny Peláez, District 8: Embassy Suites by Hilton SA Landmark on Jan. 19
  • John Courage, District 9: San Antonio Shrine Auditorium and West Avenue Compassion on Jan. 20
  • Clayton Perry, District 10: Northern Hills UMC Ministry Center on Jan. 22

“I’m appreciative of my council colleagues for joining me in this blood drive competition between our offices.” said Sandoval, District 7 Councilwoman. “With so many people depending on blood donations, it’s time we come together, roll up our sleeves, and make the Blood & Tissue Center whole. May the best member win!”

“Donating blood is an opportunity to help and serve another person in need,” said Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia, District 4 Councilwoman. “I may not know the recipient, but our common humanity bonds us. You may never know when your loved ones may be in need or the number of lives you can impact with this selfless act.”

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

All blood donors in January will receive a $10 Walmart gift card, voucher for a 20 oz. smoothie of their choice from Smoothie King on select dates, as well as points toward additional gift cards or South Texas Blood & Tissue Center merchandise.

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 first National Blood Donor Month was in January 1970 to honor voluntary blood donors and encourage new donors.

Legacy Garden provides a place for memorials

Since 2017, staff and community volunteers have maintained a Legacy Garden outside the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Donor Pavilion.

“The Legacy Garden is both a memorial to those who have died and a place for the grieving to find comfort,” said Susan Smith, Grief Support and Employee Events Manager at BioBridge Global.

The garden, which was dedicated on May 20, 2017, includes rocks inscribed with memorials to loved ones, as well as specially selected plants and a series of butterflies, which represent the spirits of the departed.

One of the most visible memorials is a bench donated by the family of Rowan Windham, inscribed with one of his sayings: “If you can’t see the good…make the good.” Rowan was 11 years old when he passed away in 2017 from complications of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome.

The Legacy Garden also includes remembrances of South Texas Blood & Tissue Center employee Taylor Castro, who passed away in 2019.

The community is welcome to contribute memorial rocks, plants or decorations to the garden, Smith says. The annual renovation of the garden in 2020 was postponed because of the pandemic, but it is expected to return next year.

To learn more about the BioBridge Global Legacy Garden, feel free to email Susan Smith.

Dez

Most high school seniors are making plans for college and looking forward to the future. But there’s only one thing on Dez’s mind—beating cancer.

“With the cancer taking over, Dez hasn’t been able to do much since her freshmen year,” said Monica, her stepmother. “Pretty much, she hasn’t had a high school experience at all.”

For the last two years, Dez has been fighting familial acute myeloid leukemia, a hereditary blood cancer. Her father survived the same cancer 12 years ago when he received a stem cell transplant from a sibling.

Now, Dez needs the same treatment. To receive a marrow or stem cell transplant, she must find a matching donor—someone who has the same genetic set of immune system as she does.

Because her siblings may carry the hereditary gene that causes this form of leukemia, she may have to find her donor on the Be The Match Registry, a national database of potential marrow donors.

Patients are more likely to match with a donor from the same ethnic or racial background, but only 10% of the current registry is of Hispanic descent. This leaves Hispanic patients, like Dez, with a lower chance of finding their match.

“Even if it’s not a perfect match for her, it is for someone else,” her stepmother said. “And you can save someone’s life.”

The more people who join the registry, the higher chance Dez and patients like her have of finding a match.

Join the Be The Match Registry in honor of Dez by texting NuecesCounty to 61474.

Noah Adams

When Noah found out he had cancer, he only hesitated for a moment.

“For the first two seconds that I heard that I had cancer, my heart dropped,” Noah said. “Those two seconds went by and I thought, ‘Well, I gotta beat it now.’”

A senior at Central Catholic High School, Noah was diagnosed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But quarantine has not stopped the community’s support for him. Friends and family coordinated a 40-car parade for him, and he continues to receive encouraging messages every day.

“You never thought that just this one child in this one situation can reach that far,” his mother Debi said.

The far-reaching support may be inspired by Noah’s giving nature. When asked what his wish was, instead of making a wish for himself, he wanted to give his friends something. They all received new PS5s that the group of friends plan to use to stay connected with each other while Noah undergoes treatment.

Noah also wants to give to other patients like him.

“There’s this kid, he’s probably about 2 years old,” Noah said. “He has the awesome smile…”

“To think that a two-year-old kid who is going through this type of cancer and may not have that type of blood transfusion… I feel like I have to do something to try and help him.”

To beat his cancer, Noah chose to undergo a rotationplasty surgery—a procedure that will remove the tumor while allowing Noah to maintain an active lifestyle with a prosthetic. He needed blood donations during and after the surgery, and may continue to need more as he undergoes chemotherapy treatment for another seven months.

Even through surgery and treatment, Noah’s positive outlook and generosity continues to impress everyone around him.

Donate blood in honor of Noah and other brave patients like him. Schedule an appointment by visiting SouthTexasBlood.org or calling 210-731-5590.

Giving in honor of others

Everyone has their own story when it comes to what drove them to start donating blood.

After losing a close friend to colon cancer, Rudolph Lizcano Jr. learned how platelets can help cancer patients while they undergo chemotherapy.

The knowledge motivated him to begin his journey as a donor. He has been donating for six years and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Lizcano always had a passion for making a difference in the world. He served in the U.S. Navy for nine years before retiring to work for automotive seating company Adient. Not only does he help many others in his career, he makes sure to take time off to donate.

It usually takes him 2½ hours to give platelets. He’ll spend the time watching a comedy or adventure movie on his phone.

Although the pandemic has made donating more difficult for some, Lizcano tries to donate once a month with his wife, making the experience enjoyable by calling it “date time.”

Lizcano wants everyone to know what a difference a donation can make.

“It’s simple and life-changing to know you can help someone for free,” he said. “All it costs you is a bit of your time.”

He never regretted his decision of becoming a blood donor and only wished he began earlier in his life.

“I think about how I could have started sooner and maybe had a chance to help my friend,” he said. “I have since lost a few more friends and an aunt to cancer, but I know there are others out there like me helping to pay it forward for my family. I am trying to do my part because one day I may have to reach out for help.”

Donors can call 210-731-5590, or visit SouthTexasBlood.org to make an appointment at one of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s seven donor rooms or to locate a blood drive.

COVID-19 vaccination will not delay blood donations

New type of vaccine means donors will not have to wait to give blood and platelets

Getting the first available vaccinations for COVID-19 will not prevent or delay donors from giving blood and platelets, because the vaccines are not made from the virus that causes COVID-19. 

“If you receive a vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, you will be able to donate blood without delay,” said Dr. Rachel Beddard, Chief Medical Officer at BioBridge Global, the San Antonio-based nonprofit organization that includes the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.

The Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in the United States on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine, approved Dec. 18, are “mRNA vaccines.”

Unlike previous vaccines, which are designed to trigger an immune response by using a weakened or inactivated germ, mRNA vaccines “teach our cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response inside our bodies,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“mRNA vaccines are a whole new way to protect against diseases,” Dr. Beddard said. “This is good news for donors.”

“The key to any vaccine is to create that immune response, which produces antibodies, since the antibodies are what prevent infections,” she said. “These vaccines cause that response.”

Under current blood donation guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, donors are generally asked to delay their donations if they recently have been vaccinated. But the deferral period does not apply to mRNA vaccinations, since they do not contain any part of the virus.

“It’s important for people to continue to come in and give blood, especially at this time of the year, which is traditionally the slowest for donations,” Dr. Beddard said. “It was good news that the first vaccines are mRNA.”

One of the other vaccines still in development, from Astra-Zeneca, uses an inactivated version of the virus. When it becomes available, anyone who receives the Astra-Zeneca will have to wait two weeks before donating blood.

Those who have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to receive the vaccine, but they will not be able to donate COVID convalescent plasma, according to guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Donors with questions about the types of COVID-19 vaccinations can contact the South Texas Blood & Tissue donor eligibility line, 210-731-5555, extension 2243, from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, as well as the Moderna vaccine, are the first mRNA vaccines to gain emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA.

But they have been studied for decades, and they are considered especially useful against COVID-19 because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials, which means production of a vaccine can be standardized and scaled up more quickly, the CDC reported on its website.

The two-shot Pfizer vaccine was shown to be 95% effective in randomized trials involving tens of thousands of people. It already has been cleared in Britain, Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Mayor challenges community to save lives with a blood donation

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg urged South Texans to give blood during his own donation Monday afternoon. 

“We’re challenging everyone in the community to give blood as soon as they can,” he said while giving at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Donor Pavilion. “With the holidays, and people out of school or not at work, it’s a critical period for donations.” 

The last two weeks of the year typically are the slowest of the year for blood donations, and the community blood center is projecting a decline of 30% from previous years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the same time, there is a bigger demand for blood, as trauma cases and accidents tend to increase during the holidays. Hospitals also are scheduling surgeries that had been postponed earlier this year because of blood shortages and the pandemic. 

“It’s just about an hour out of your day, and you can save somebody’s life,” Nirenberg said. 

Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer of the South Teas Blood & Tissue Center, said the center needs to build a seven-day supply of blood to make sure enough is available for every patient. 

“You never know when someone will need blood, maybe someone you know,” she said. 

The blood supply has been rebounding to adequate levels in recent weeks, Waltman said, but there is concern that it will drop again over the holidays, when there are fewer blood drives scheduled and donors are out. 

There is also a lingering shortage of type O blood. O-negative blood can be given to any patient in an emergency, and O-positive is the most common type in South Texas. 

To schedule a donation at one of six local donor rooms or at a community drive, visit SouthTexasBlood.org or call 210-731-5590. Donations are by appointment only. 

Who gets transfusions?

Dramatic scenes from movies and TV lead a lot of people to believe that most blood transfusions go to people who are seriously injured in accidents.

In fact, just 2% of donated blood in this country goes to patients with traumatic injuries, according to statistics compiled by the Alliance for Community Transfusion Services.

The highest percentage of transfusions in the United States actually go to patients battling cancer and related blood conditions. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Cancer and blood disease treatments: 34%
  • Anemia treatment: 19%
  • Surgery patients: 18%
  • Treatments for heart, liver and kidney disorders: 13%
  • Orthopedic patients: 10%
  • Obstetrics: 4%
  • Trauma and accidents: 2%

Patients with cancer – and especially blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma – often need additional blood because their bodies often cannot produce enough blood cells on their own.

People with anemia do not have enough healthy red blood cells, so they need regular transfusions. And even though the amount of blood required for surgeries and related treatments has been reduced dramatically in recent years, blood loss still occurs.

Difficulties with childbirth lead some women to need transfusions as well.

The alliance is made up of 12 independent blood centers in Texas (including the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center), Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and California. Members distribute more than 1.5 million transfusions to more than 750 hospitals every year.

To do your part for all your neighbors who need blood – for whatever reason – visit SouthTexasBlood.org, or call 210-731-5590 to make an appointment today.