Foundation webinar panelists talk about organization providing medical advances and therapies during pandemic

Events of the last 16 months pushed organizations to adapt their operations during a pandemic, and the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has been no exception. 

From managing the cancellation of more than 1,000 blood drives to making an extraordinary donation happen in the middle of a Texas winter storm, the center persevered in providing medical advances and therapies that save and enhance lives through the healing power of human cells and tissue. 

Leaders from the STBTC highlighted success stories from the organization during a webinar sponsored by The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation on Wednesday, April 21. The installment of the Voices of Hope series was entitled “Pushing Forward Together – COVID, Community and Innovations.” 

Blood donation challenges 

The breakdown in blood donations at STBTC donor rooms and mobile drives was completely changed in 2020, noted Adrienne Mendoza, Vice President, Blood Operations. 

“In 2020, bloodmobiles began to represent what we usually collect at donor centers, about 40% of donations, so we wound up depending more on those brick-and-mortar centers,” she said. “As a result, access to new donors, who usually come from high schools, colleges and businesses on mobile drives, was limited.” 

The center came to rely more on its existing donor base to meet community needs. Those needs have been growing as well this year – requests for blood from the 11 largest hospitals in the region in March were up 31% from 2020, and demand in the first quarter was up 10% overall. 

Mendoza attributed the increase to people delaying healthcare procedures because of the pandemic, as well as dramatic population growth in suburban areas and an aging population. 

“We actually collected more blood than in 2019, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand,” she said. 

Family support continues 

Despite not being able to conduct in-person events, the Grief Support and Life Legacies Program, which works with families of tissue donors, continued to provide counseling, said Kimberly Monroe, Manager of Business Development in STBTC Tissue Development. 

“Donation offers hope for a second chance,” she said. “It can turn loss into legacy, tragedy into triumph. Nothing we do at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is possible without the generosity of donors, and in the case of our tissue donors, the donor families.” 

Susan Smith, Grief Support and Life Legacies Manager, made numerous adjustments to programs in the last year, from expanding digital outreach to helping set up a Facebook group for donor families, Monroe said. 

The Donate Life Texas registry for organ, eye and tissue donors also reached a significant milestone in 2020, reaching 13 million registered donors, she said. 

“An organ donor can save eight lives, an eye donor can help two different people and a tissue donor can make a difference for up to 75,” Monroe said.  

Perseverance rewarded 

One of the more-dramatic healthcare stories from the 2021 winter storm in South Texas involved the center’s stem cell donor program, said Vivienne Marshall, Director, Clinical and  Research Operations. 

As reported in an extensive story on Spectrum News, the center worked with the National Marrow Donor Program (also known as Be The Match) and the San Antonio Fire Department to get a stem cell donor from Eagle Pass to San Antonio, even as roads were closed because of snow and ice. 

Be The Match found a helicopter willing to bring the donor – who already had started a process to increase stem cells in his bloodstream – from Eagle Pass to San Antonio, and a fire marshal brought him to the center’s cellular therapy center. His donation was driven from San Antonio to Dallas, then shipped internationally to Chile for a 3-year-old girl. 

“She received the transplant in March, but of course it’s too early to tell how it will all come out,” Marshall said. “I just feel privileged to be part of this organization, to be able to contribute for patients.” 

Webinar Q&A 

Q: Would there be a possibility of getting a guest speaker to come out and speak to our employees about the importance of donating blood? 
A: Absolutely! Contact us here and reference that you’d like to coordinate a speaking/education event. We’d be glad to support this. 

Q: How do they preserve the blood on the vehicles for Brothers in Arms and what is the shelf life? 
A: Each medical unit has a transporter to maintain the unit in its proper temperature condition, and these are validated for the time frame required between temperature checks. The shelf life is 35 days. 

Q: Do you work with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry or do you have your own separate registry
A: We partner with the National Marrow Donor Program also known as Be The Match. There are registries all over the world, so when a patient searches for a match, doctors search all registries to make a lifesaving transplant possible. 

Q: I believe low titer O whole blood is tested for anti A, B, not Rh? 
A: You’re correct! Anti-A and Anti-B are verified. 

Q: I’ve donated double red cells for many years on bloodmobiles at OneBlood in Florida. Why are double reds not available to be collected on bloodmobiles? 
A: Thank you for that question. We do have the capability of donating double red cells on mobile drives and at donor centers. We do use the instruments and technology depending on the need, so if we are low on Type O blood for instance, we encourage the double red cell donation there. 

Q: If there is such a need for whole blood, why don’t they increase how often a donor can donate? I’ve donated as often as soon as the center allowed (8 weeks) and then was told I’d have to wait 4 months before I could again. 
A: We currently have limits placed by the FDA. There are discussions on evaluating these guidelines. We are so grateful for your generosity! Donation frequency is as follows: 

  • Whole blood donors must wait at least 8 weeks between donations 
  • Dual red cell donors must wait at least 16 weeks 
  • Platelet donors must wait 1 week in between donations 
  • Convalescent plasma can be in intervals as short as 5 days 

Q: Why should I donate blood and what are the benefits? 

A: 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. With each donation, 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. 

Q: Do you take financial donations as well?  
A: Yes. You can make financial gifts at BloodnTissueFoundation.org and learn more about the different programs you can give to. 

Q: How can someone get involved in hosting a blood drive or donating blood
A: They can find out more at SouthTexasBlood.org  

Q: I’m a regular donor and just received my first COVID shot. How long after my second shot do I have to wait to donate? 
A: There is no wait time to donate. 

Q: Can you tell me about the Connect for Life program and how I can share the information with my peers? 
A:  You can follow us on our social media pages @connectforlife on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and South Texas Blood & Tissue Center on LinkedIn

Q: What would be the first step to coordinate a blood drive in a neighborhood community? 
A: Learn about coordinating a blood drive by contacting us here

Q: Are company onsite blood drives back on? 
A: Yes. We can visit your location through our mobile blood donation teams. We have options to use a bus or set up inside your location, as space permits.  

Q: Besides blood drives, how can companies partner with you? 
A: We always need help sharing information about the need for blood and tissue donors, and a great way to help is to share information we post on social media. Please follow us @connectforlife on Facebook or Instagram. Financial contributions also are a great way to help. More information on ways to give can be found here. 

Q: What can be done to raise platelet count for donation? 
A: Eating certain foods that support platelet production can help. 

Q: Does the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center have a cord blood bank? 
A: Yes! The Texas Cord Blood Bank, the state’s only public cord blood bank, is located at the headquarters campus.  

Q: What does it mean if a COVID antibody test results in positive? 
A: A positive antibody tests indicates that the test method was able to detect the presence of antibodies in the sample. If there are antibodies present it means you were likely infected or exposed to the virus, which triggered the response of your immune system to protect you through developing the antibodies. 

Q: How can someone confirm they are still on the marrow registry if they have registered with a cheek swab years ago?  
A: Go here to update your information. It is not possible to predict how long it will take to receive a call to donate, but while you are waiting please ensure that your contact information is current. Thank you for signing up for the registry! 

Olsen family bloodmobile joins South Texas Blood & Tissue Center fleet

Multiple generations of Barbara Olsen’s family witnessed a rolling tribute to her on March 12 with the dedication of the Homer Olsen Family bloodmobile for the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. 

Family members saw the new blood collections vehicle inside and out – including a Homer Olsen Family logo that features a yellow rose and an outline of the state of Texas. 

“It will be an amazing sight to me when I’m out on the road and see that yellow rose drive by,” said Cindy Schneider, a member of The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation board of directors and Homer and Barbara Olsen’s daughter. 

Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, said the bloodmobile would be a lasting tribute to Barbara Olsen, who passed away after a long battle with leukemia – one that required multiple blood and platelets transfusions. 

“Thousands and thousands of people will set foot in that bus and save lives,” Waltman said. “From the bottom of our hearts, and for all those people, we say ‘thank you’ to Mr. Olsen.” 

Cathy Bailey, Homer Olsen’s daughter, thanked the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and The Foundation. 

“We are so grateful to be able to give back to these wonderful organizations and our community,” she said. “They are saving lives every day, and for that we have our dad to thank.” 

Homer Olsen paid the entire price for the bloodmobile, following a tour of BioBridge Global in 2019. 

The vehicle goes into service across South Texas this spring, with the yellow rose logo on three sides as well as donor entrance and exit doors. Yellow was Barbara Olsen’s favorite color, and a bloodmobile is a fitting tribute to her mother’s legacy, Schneider said. 

“I especially remember a backyard party was had for mom with all of her best friends present,” she said. “Mom was the shining star of the party, just having a blood transfusion. She passed away about three weeks later. 

“She battled this disease with grace and dignity and was an inspiration to her family.” 

Ad on San Antonio Express-News about the new bus

Thank you, South Texas

You saved countless lives by donating blood.

It wasn’t easy. You turned out during a pandemic. Throughout the holidays. Following the winter storm of a lifetime.

You rolled up your sleeves and you gave. And thanks to you, across South Texas, patients received lifesaving blood to survive traumatic injury and support their fight against disease.

Special thanks to our elected officials, community leaders, businesses, schools, churches and countless others who promoted donations and sponsored drives during some of the most difficult of times.

Patients across South Texas still need your support.

The need continues to grow. Please give blood or host a blood drive, and spread the word.

Call 210-731-5590 or visit SouthTexasBlood.org/Donate.

Blood & Tissue Center Foundation’s 2021 Red & White Ball to help raise funds for a new donor room at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center

The 2021 Red & White Ball will be on Saturday, Nov. 13 at The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

The gala’s co-chairs are Jeanne Bennett, Morgan Bertram and Lilly and Alan Gretzinger.

Proceeds from this year’s event will support the buildout of a new donor room and equipment to improve the donor experience and expand blood collection opportunities in the high-growth area on San Antonio’s far north side.

This will be the first donor room expansion in 10 years by the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, necessary to meet the needs of a growing population, especially as hospital demand continues to rise for blood and other therapeutic products provided by the community blood center. 

The Foundation, chaired by Claire and Patrick Rouse, will present its annual Chairman’s Award to the Homer Olsen family. The award recognizes those who have made a significant impact on the organization’s success.

Frost will receive the Patron Award for outstanding commitment to and significant philanthropic support for the lifesaving mission of BioBridge Global through the Foundation.

Details are coming soon on seats, tables and sponsorships for the ball. For more information, contact Foundation Manager Mary Dial at 210-249-4498 or mary.dial@bloodntissue.org or visit RedAndWhiteBallSA.org.

Note from Foundation Chairs Claire & Patrick Rouse

Dear Board Members:

We would like to thank all of you for your commitment to The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation. 

As noted at our Board meeting, 2021 is going to be a challenging year for The Foundation but at the same time provide us with an opportunity to explore how we achieve our mission of increasing community awareness and developing financial and other resources in support of BioBridge Global and its subsidiaries. 

To further our mission, we need members of the Board to actively participate in our efforts. 

We encourage all of our Board members to consider participating in the following manner:

  1. Donate through Champions fore Charity (details enclosed)
  2. Follow “Connect for Life” on your social media platforms and share all of our posts
  3. Sign up for a committee (fundraising, outreach and membership)
  4. Give blood, platelets and convalescent plasma
  5. Share contacts for possible philanthropic donors with Clay Howell (especially prospective donors The Foundation has not previously worked with)
  6. Support new bus reveals (date TBD)
  7. Share our mission at your local Rotary or community meetings (a BBG speaker can be coordinated for you)
  8. Share your story or do you have a family or friend with a story to share
  9. Get creative and let us know what you think will work, what we should do or how you would like to get involved

We look forward to working with everyone this year and should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact us. 

Sincerely,

Claire and Patrick Rouse

COVID-19 becomes a personal fight for councilmember Rocha Garcia

For District 4 City Councilmember Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia, the fight against COVID-19 has gone beyond personal. 

Rocha Garcia, who spoke to The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation board of directors at its virtual meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, has lost seven relatives to the pandemic and seen at least 30 fight COVID-19 in the last 12 months. She also has lost at least three members of her church family. 

“To say this has taken a personal toll on me, well, it’s just beyond personal with COVID,” she said. “And it’s taken a heavy toll in the district I represent.” 

But Rocha Garcia, who already was a blood donor with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, has found ways to fight back. 

She was one of the first members of the city council to sign up for the San Antonio District Challenge in January, in which members of the council sponsored blood drives across the community. 

The drives brought in more than 250 donations. District 7, represented by Ana Sandoval, won the challenge, followed by District 9, led by John Courage. 

“We’re very competitive on city council, and my district got third place,” Rocha Garcia said. “We’re going for first next time.” 

She also has become a major advocate for the center’s COVID-19 convalescent plasma program, in which those who have recovered from COVID-19 donate plasma in hopes of providing virus-fighting antibodies to those who are still sick. 

Once again, it’s personal: One of her cousins survived COVID-19 following a convalescent plasma donation. 

“My experiences have made me a more vocal advocate for both convalescent plasma and the day-to-day need,” she said. “The need for blood is just going to continue.” 

Rocha Garcia thanked staff at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and The Foundation board for supporting the community through a difficult year

“When we look back 10 years from now, we can say we all pitched in with what we’re really good at,” she said. “You all are really good at bringing the community together at a time of need.” 

Our support for the community during COVID-19

Since the earliest days of the global COVID-19 pandemic, BioBridge Global and its subsidiaries have been part of the overall fight to ensure that lifesaving therapies remain available to hospitals and patients in the community. 

From multiple types of donations to critically needed COVID-19 testing, the organization has used its resources to respond to the most serious health crisis of the last 100 years and fulfill its mission to save and enhance lives through the healing power of human cells and tissue. 

A boost for patients 

Last spring, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center responded to the FDA’s emergency use authorization allowing plasma donations from those who had recovered from COVID-19 to be used in the fight against the disease.

Previous pandemics had shown plasma of those who have beaten the disease contained antibodies that might help those battling the infection. 

In the span of a week, the center established a program to collect convalescent plasma and distribute it to hospitals. That program recently distributed its 20,000th dose of convalescent plasma, with a quarter of that amount provided in January 2021 alone. 

The center is the only organization in San Antonio collecting what is known as convalescent plasma donations for transfusion directly to patients. 

Maintain the blood supply 

Even in a pandemic, there is a significant need for blood donations for cancer and surgery patients, accident victims, new mothers, and more. Last spring, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center moved blood drives to larger venues, including the Alamodome, to allow for donations with social distancing, masks in place and additional sanitary measures.

All blood drives and donor rooms continue to follow safety guidelines, and the center actually managed to record a small increase in the number of donations from 2019 to 2020. 

Trauma program grows 

The Brothers in Arms program, already the nation’s largest civilian program providing specially tested O-positive blood for use in emergency trauma cases, continued through the pandemic. The need for blood in pre-hospital settings – aboard medical helicopters, at accident scenes and in emergency vehicles – stayed steady in 2020, and so did the supply.  

More than 6,500 qualified Brothers in Arms donors were identified, double the total from 2019, and their donations kept up with demand. A recent article in a military medical journal outlined the successful deployment of the program.

Testing for COVID-19 

Testing expertise at BioBridge Global and its QualTex Laboratories was vital to the quick deployment of quick-turnaround, highly accurate COVID-19 testing by Community Labs, which established its testing laboratory within BioBridge Global facilities. That expertise also helped create a model that other cities and organizations could use for testing micro-populations like schools or businesses. 

In addition, QualTex Laboratories was able to set up a program to test blood donations for the presence of antibodies to COVID-19. The results served as a way to trace the spread of the infection and help people who may have experienced mild COVID-19 symptoms – or none at all – know if they had in fact been infected. 

Other donation programs continue 

Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, teams from the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center continued their work collecting tissue donations: bone, ligaments and tendons, veins, heart values, skin and more. Each donor’s gift can help up to 75 people overcome conditions from bone injuries to burns. 

The center also has continued efforts to add thousands of tissue, stem cell and bone marrow donors to regional and international registries. Online campaigns added hundreds of potential donors, even in a year when in-person recruitment was suspended.

David and Cindy Schneider

February 2021
The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation
Board Member Spotlight

David and Cindy Schneider

David and Cindy Schneider have been actively involved with The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation since 2016. They have served on a Red & White Ball committee, Co-Chairs of the Red & White Ball, Vice Chairs of Fundraising and Board Chairs in 2019.

They were both fortunate to be raised in strong families who emphasized regular church attendance, moral and ethical values, and service to others. Cindy has been involved in many community organizations and charities, including the Assistance League, San Antonio Conservation Society and Cancer Center Council. Cindy earned Gold status as a Girl Scout and continues her dedication to this organization, currently being on the Development Board of the Girl Scouts Southwest. She is a registered nurse and has served as head nurse on a cardiac floor. David was also active in Scouting and is an Eagle Scout. He is an attorney and has worked for over thirty-five years for Olsen Energy, Inc., the family oil and gas business. He is a Trustee of the Coker Cemetery Association and a past Director of the Inverness HOA. David and Cindy are both Stephen Ministers at Coker UMC.

Cindy’s mother, Barbara, lived with chronic lymphocytic leukemia for many years. As the disease progressed, Barbara would get many transfusions of blood and platelets. Cindy sat with her and supported her during all of those transfusions. After the transfusions, Barbara would feel like new again and for a few days be able to really enjoy her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends. Cindy fondly remembers a backyard party she hosted for her Mom with all of her best friends present. Barbara was the shining star of the party, just having a blood transfusion. She passed away about three weeks later. She battled this disease with grace and dignity and was an inspiration to her family. So there is no doubt why the Schneiders are dedicated to The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation, and Cindy was able to tell her Mother’s story at a Board meeting several years ago.

In 2019, Cindy’s family, the Olsen family, made a significant contribution to The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation to purchase a new bloodmobile in honor of her Mother. The Olsens look forward to the dedication very soon. Barbara’s favorite color was yellow, so the bloodmobile will have a yellow rose and stem emblazoned on a red, white and blue State of Texas. This bus will be joined about the same time with the Dancing for a Cause bus, which was purchased with The Foundation’s fundraising efforts in 2019. These will be beautiful new buses that will serve San Antonio and South Texas for many years to come, and the Schneiders are very thankful for the hard work and generosity of the people who made all of this possible.

Champions fore Charity

The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation is in its 13th year of partnering with the Valero Texas Open to make a 7% difference through Champions fore Charity.

2021 Chairs David Schneider and Art Bennert have come together to lead this campaign and encourage fellow board members to make their annual gifts through Champions.

Last year’s contributions made all the difference in saving lives as the operations of The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center made many necessary changes to support hospitals and patients in need during onset of the pandemic.

Please consider making your pledge today for your annual contributions including Red and White Ball tickets, sponsorships or gifts to any funds or programs such as the Founders Circle and the Lori Wright memorial.

A pledge today gives patients like Noah hope.

The bill me option allows you to pledge now and pay later through June 25.

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

UPDATE: District 7 wins competition, with campaign bringing more than 250 blood donations. Click here to read more.

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.