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.

Video: Your guide to a better blood donation

As part of efforts to encourage blood donations and make the process as easy as possible, South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Donor Advocate Nurse, Valente Inniss-Thompson, teamed up with Harry Hemoglobin on a new video, “Make it You Best Blood Donation.”

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.

Blood donations help leukemia patients like Greg

Greg has needed multiple blood transfusions throughout his life.  

As a child, he battled Crohn’s disease, a rare digestive disorder that can cause internal bleeding.  

In 2011, doctors had to remove large sections of his intestines.  

“When I was in surgery, I started bleeding, so doctors had to give me a few bags of blood to get me stabilized,” Greg recalls. 

Through most of his life he has battled anemia as well. In May 2021 Greg had a serious episode. As he was rushed to the hospital, he recalled that “My heart rate was struggling. My body was just trying to get oxygen. My resting heart rate was 125. It got pretty bad.” 

Doctors informed Greg he has leukemia. His hemoglobin was so low that he received three to four transfusions.  

“After blood transfusions I feel healthier. I can see it in my heart rate. I can breathe easier. I can move about easier and just a general feeling of feeling better and energized and relaxed,” he said.   

For many, hearing that they have cancer is shocking news, but for Greg he recalls something totally different.  

“I had already mentally worked through that for a few years and was prepared for that possibility.” 

But he does worry about his wife and two children.  

“I’m just trying to stay strong for them. I know they were really worried as it went on. It was tough on my wife,” he said. “I know during that time frame, she’s been the one trying to keep the household going while I’ve been in the hospital. She’s doing an amazing job.” 

He is thankful for donors who gave blood and saved his life during the pandemic and the continued blood shortage. Schedule a blood donation or host a blood drive in honor of patients like Greg by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting SouthTexasBlood.org. 

Donor Highlight: Alicia

For Alicia’s family, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived just as they were embarking on a grief journey of their own. Alicia passed away at age 16 in March 2020.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Alicia’s family was unable to hold a Mass for her. Friends and extended family couldn’t attend her funeral. No one could be present around the family as they grieved their unimaginable loss. 

“The comfort of having a hug, the comfort of having someone around was not possible,” Alicia’s mother, Tina, remembers.

Her extended family is sensitive around the topic of Alicia’s death.

“I always feel like I am being looked at as a bottle of glass and if anybody does something, I will shatter,” Tina said. “I tell them that if I cry, it’s not because you hurt my feelings or said something you shouldn’t have. I cry sometimes because there’s too much emotion there, but it’s no one’s fault. It’s my way of expressing all the emotion that I have inside of me.”

Yet, Tina knows that there are a lot of people in her family who are also healing and processing their grief.

At home, Alicia’s parents and brothers keep her present through memories and stories.

“We talk about her a lot,” Tina said.

Alicia always cared for those around her. As the oldest of four children, and the only daughter, she would often look after her little brothers when her parents were at work. Her youngest brother would fondly call her “Little Mom.”

Now, when Tina is cooking dinner, Alicia’s younger brother will sometimes say, “Do you remember Alicia used to cook like this?”

“For being so young, she was so mature beyond her years,” Tina remembers. “She knew how important her position in our family was.”

As a child, Alicia had always been outspoken. She would grow up to be an outgoing, cheerful young woman who loved to dance – no matter what kind of music was playing.

Alicia was also outspoken about being an organ, eye, and tissue donor. Not long before she passed away, she decided to join the Donate Life Registry at the DMV. It’s a moment Tina remembers often.

“I asked her if she was sure, because this was a very important question and she’s so young,” Tina said. “But it’s something everyone should talk about.”

“I know what I want to do,” Alicia told her. “I know what this is about, and if I can’t use it anymore, and someone needs it to go on, then they should have me. Because I don’t need it anymore.

“If I give it to someone, a part of me goes on, too.”

Tina remembered those words when she was asked about Alicia becoming a donor. While the moment was hard to live, she knew it was important to remember Alicia’s wishes and legacy.

“Her legacy was this,” Tina remembers. “To keep her going somewhere. To help someone else because she was that giving. She was even giving in death.”

She imagines that if she could talk to Alicia now, her daughter would thank her for honoring her wishes.

As Tina and her family continue their grief journey, she often thinks about what it would be like to have Alicia back.

“There wouldn’t be a moment that I wouldn’t take advantage of, just, to hold my child, to listen to my child, to hear how her day was.”

“Make sure you live life to the fullest and take advantage of every moment to be with that person. Show them that you love them. Tell them that you love them. Never go home thinking you have a tomorrow, because you might not.”

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.   

When an infant needs a blood transfusion

It takes a rare blood type from a special group of donors to save an infant: It often is type O-negative and cytomegalovirus-negative.

Rare blood, rare donors

O-negative is the blood type that can be transfused to patients of all blood types, yet makes up only 7% of the population.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) causes mild to no symptoms in healthy people. CMV is common, with over half of adults being exposed to it by age 40. However, its presence can cause health complications for these tiny patients.

Things done for safety

Two methods are used to remove the virus:

  1. Leukoreduced blood: CMV is in white blood cells. The process of leukoreduction uses a special filter to removes the cells. The process is standard for most blood centers for its benefits of minimizing adverse reactions and risk of infection.
  • Leukoreduced and CMV-negative blood: Some hospitals request blood to be both leukoreduced and tested for CMV. If no antibodies to CMV are present (meaning no previous or current CMV infection has happened to the donor), the blood is considered CMV-negative.

Small baby, small volume

Once the blood is tested and cleared, a regular-sized blood bag is divided into four smaller bags called a quad pack or pedi-pack. Blood center then delivers to the hospital to help a baby in the pediatric intensive care unit undergoing surgery or alleviate symptoms from anemia or other medical conditions.

Take time to learn how you potentially can become a baby blood donor. Learn more about blood donation at SouthTexasBlood.org.

Why You Matter: The Need for Platelets

It’s up to platelet donors like you to give platelets for use in emergencies, surgeries or even to fight cancer.

Who Needs Platelets?

Platelets are cells that help stop bleeding. Because most platelets have a shelf life of 5 days, they are constantly needed. 

People with blood types of A+, A-, B+, AB+ & AB- are most commonly needed as platelet donors.

Cancer patients require frequent platelets transfusions after chemotherapy, as well as patients who have traumatic injuries.

People with blood types of A+, A-, B+, AB+ & AB- are most commonly needed as platelet donors.

You can give platelets at all our donor rooms. The donation takes between 90-120 minutes and you can donate every 7 days. 

Ready to Donate? 

Hundreds of platelets donations are needed every day for patients in South Texas. Yet less than 5% of people donate.

It takes platelets donors like you to make a difference and save lives.

Visit SouthTexasBlood.org or call 210-731-5590 to schedule your platelets donation today.

Donation FAQs

STBTC needs to collect an adequate platelet supply for more than 100 hospitals in 40 South Texas counties. We depend on volunteer platelet donors to make this happen. Also, platelets are perishable and there is no substitute.

You may donate at any of our seven neighborhood donor rooms. See above for locations.

Platelet donors must wait 1 week in between donations.

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.

The FDA requires that all blood centers ask about your medical history every time you donate to ensure the safety of the blood supply. You have to wait a certain amount of time between donations. A lot can happen in that time. The questions serve as a layer of protection for patients who receive blood.

Platelets can be stored for only five days.

Plateles are used for many different patients including: cancer patients, open-heart surgery patients, diabetics, recipients of organ or tissue transplants, trauma victims and more.

After resting for five to ten minutes and enjoying refreshments to replenish your fluids, you should feel just fine and ready to continue your daily activities. You should refrain from heavy lifting or extreme physical exertion for 24 hours and you’ll feel great knowing you have helped save three lives.

Yes. All supplies used to collect platelets are new, completely sterile and used only once. There is no risk of disease transmission to a donor.

Comfort levels vary from person to person but most first-time donors wonder why they waited so long! You will feel a slight pinch and it’s all over before you know it!

The qualifications to be a platelet donor are simple. You must be in good general health, at least 17 years of age (or 16 with parental consent form) and weigh at least 110 lbs (or 120 lbs if 16 years old).

Why You Matter: The Need for Type O Blood

Every 4 minutes, someone in South Texas needs blood. 

It’s up to Type O donors like you to give blood for use in emergencies, surgeries or even to fight cancer. 

Who Needs Type O Blood? 

Type O blood is broken down into type O positive and type O negative. 

Thirty-nine percent of people are O-positive, the most common blood type. With special testing, O-positive blood is used more and more to give in traumas when O-negatives are in short supply.

Your blood type mainly goes to patients battling cancer and related blood conditions, as well as for surgeries, transplants and trauma emergencies.

Only 7 percent of people are O-negative. The need for type O-negative donors is special because it can be given to any patient in an emergency.

Male donors who are type O-positive may also save lives in another way. Their blood is specially screened for transfusion at the scene of an accident through a program called Brothers in Arms

You can give these donations at all our donor rooms and blood drives. The donation takes less than an hour and you can donate every 56 days. 

Ready to Donate? 

Hundreds of blood donations are needed every day for patients in South Texas. Yet less than 5% of people donate blood.

It takes Type O blood donors like you to make a difference and save lives.

Visit SouthTexasBlood.org or call 210-731-5590 to schedule your Type O donation today.

Donation FAQs

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.

You may donate at any of our seven neighborhood donor rooms or at any mobile blood drive. See above for locations.

Whole blood donors must wait at least 8 weeks between donations.

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.

The FDA requires that all blood centers ask about your medical history every time you donate to ensure the safety of the blood supply. You have to wait a certain amount of time between donations. A lot can happen in that time. The questions serve as a layer of protection for patients who receive blood.

Refrigerated red blood cells can be stored for up to 42 days.

Blood is used for many different patients including: cancer patients, open-heart surgery patients, diabetics, recipients of organ or tissue transplants, trauma victims and more.

After resting for five to ten minutes and enjoying refreshments to replenish your fluids, you should feel just fine and ready to continue your daily activities. You should refrain from heavy lifting or extreme physical exertion for 24 hours and you’ll feel great knowing you have helped save three lives.

Yes. All supplies used to collect blood are new, completely sterile and used only once. There is no risk of disease transmission to a donor.

Comfort levels vary from person to person but most first-time donors wonder why they waited so long! You will feel a slight pinch and it’s all over before you know it!

The qualifications to be a blood donor are simple. You must be in good general health, at least 17 years of age (or 16 with parental consent form) and weigh at least 110 lbs (or 120 lbs if 16 years old).

Myths and facts about giving blood ‘one more time’

Here are some myths and realities about the number of times you can donate blood:

Myth: I can only give blood once a year.

Reality: You actually can make a whole blood donation every eight weeks and/or donate platelets up to 24 times a year. We max whole blood donations to 5 times a year as a measure to protect the health of frequent blood donors. More rest within donations helps replenish your red blood cells and iron, which also lowers the chance of a deferral at your next appointment.

Myth: Somebody else will do it.

Reality: In 2019, the number of donations in South Texas was at its second-lowest level in five years, but the need for donations went up along with population growth.

Myth: The “regular” blood donors keep up the supply.

Reality: The largest percentage of donors in 2019 – 66% — gave just one time, and the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center experienced the typical seasonal shortages during the holidays and the summer break when students are out of school.

Myth: My extra donation won’t matter.

Fact: In 2019, if just half the one-time donors had given once more, donations would have topped 140,000 – more than enough to meet local demand.

Learn more about the donation process and schedule an appointment at the SouthTexasBlood.org.

Correction, June 22: Added explanation in blood donation limits.