March 2011

Our Donors Are in Good Hands

By Erin Crager, Marketing Intern, Stanford Blood Center

When you meet Training Supervisor Mary Hayes, it’s no surprise that Stanford Blood Center (SBC) Collections personnel (nurses and medical assistants) are some of the best trained in the industry. They are consummate professionals. But Mary, a Texas native with exacting standards, still refers affectionately to her charges as “my kids.”

A usual day for Mary begins at 6:00 a.m. She checks phlebotomy and medical history performance statistics from the previous day to ensure that high standards are being met.

With new Registered Nurses and Medical Assistants starting on a monthly basis, a large part of Mary’s time is dedicated to what she calls MBWA, or Management by Walking Around. She is constantly on her feet, supervising by direct observation of the trainees’ work. Even after completing their training, they may be shadowed for several weeks to confirm that work is being conducted according to standard operating procedures.

Mary may also be found speaking at nursing schools about job opportunities in blood banking. Many nursing students are unaware of positions in the blood banking industry, and a career in a field other than critical care can be appealing to some. She recently spoke at the American Health Education program in Dublin, CA where SBC has found many new nurses.

When Mary is not on her feet, she might be grading competency tests for various Blood Center departments, including Collections, Registration, Marketing, and Telerecruitment. Or, she might be training her students for the new computer system soon to be used by donors for completing their medical histories. It’s often a very long day for Mary, but she is committed to making certain that our donors are in good hands.

The George Bailey Effect


After pregnancy complications in the spring of 2000 required Lauren Larsen be transfused with 200+ units of blood, she embarked on her current direction as a crusader for volunteer blood donations. In this role she has spoken at more than 200 national and regional transfusion medicine conferences, service organization meetings, and blood center events.

On Thursday, March 31, Lauren will be joining us as guest speaker at Café Scientifique to share the heartfelt stories encompassing the “ripple effect” inherent in every blood donation. Here, Lauren writes about one example of this effect.

While reading the paper one morning, Manuel, a 30-something Mexican immigrant, learns that there’s a local blood shortage. Having never donated blood before, Manuel decides to “help my fellow Americans.” Afterward, he describes the experience as “incredible,” and from that day forward, Manuel is a regular blood donor – every eight weeks.

In 2000, a new mom goes into multiple organ failure and uncontrollable bleeding shortly after an emergency caesarian section is performed to save her baby’s life. Pints of blood are pumped into her body as fast as her veins can accept them. One of those pints is Manuel’s. Several weeks later, Manuel’s next blood donation appointment comes up and – again – the new mom receives his blood. She leaves the hospital after six weeks with a new mission: to help recruit more volunteer blood donors so that others can be given the same second chance at life she was given.

In 2004, the new mom returns to the same hospital that had treated her and walks into a room filled with news cameras and people. Seated in the first two rows are 22 of her actual blood donors from years earlier. Among them is Manuel, who has a bouquet of flowers in his lap – a gift for the woman whose life he helped save. When he’s called to the podium to meet the recipient of his blood, he embraces her, then her husband, and then their daughter, now 4 years old.

Years pass and the recession hits, forcing many to foreclose on mortgages they can no longer afford. Among them is Manuel. The stress over losing his family’s home manifests itself as serious physical ailments, and he is hospitalized. His wife pleads with him to forget the home, that the health of their family is more important than any material possession, houses included. He remains despondent, but there is one memory that pulls him through his darkest days: giving a hug to that little girl who has a mother – thanks to him. It takes months, but Manuel is able to overcome his health issues and move on with his life.

That Christmas, the new mom receives a card from Manuel announcing that he’ll soon be a grandfather. She sends baby gifts for him to pass along to his pregnant daughter, but when they arrive, Manuel sets them aside. “I’m saving the gifts for the baby shower,” he writes to her. “Before giving them to my daughter, I’d like to tell everyone how our two families are connected through blood donation.” The new mom reads this, and cries. Yes, she thinks, we are connected. Then she laughs as she pictures everyone at the baby shower all heading down to the local blood center together to give blood when the party ends.

Thinking back on this story, I am reminded of the scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” – my all-time favorite movie – in which George Bailey begins to understand the depth of connection he had to so many people, and vice versa. “Strange, isn’t it?” his guardian angel, Clarence, says to him. “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
This is a lesson I know well – ever since receiving more than 200 pints of blood 10 years ago during the birth of my daughter, Clare. And I’ll forever be grateful that Manuel’s life touched mine.

Lauren Ward Larsen is the author of “Zuzu’s Petals: A True Story of Second Chances,” which shares her story of becoming a 200-pint blood recipient and the unexpected life that unfolded as a result. She is also the president and chief ambassador of the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers. She can be reached at, or via her website.

Iron (Fe) & the 56-day Deferral

iron tilt.jpg

By Billie Rubin, Hemoglobin’s Catabolic Cousin, reporting from the labs of Stanford Blood Center

The 56-day interval between whole blood donations is not just to build up our red blood cell (RBC) and hemoglobin levels again but also to give the body enough time to collect the amount of iron it lost in the donation. Our bodies can make their own hemoglobin and RBCs in the bone marrow and liver and do so constantly, but it can't make iron.

We get iron from the foods we eat or in supplements. And it's the iron at the center of the hemoglobin molecules that binds to oxygen (and carbon dioxide). That's how RBCs transport these gases throughout the body.

Give Yourself Away


The following piece by blood donor Kathy Harris is something she voluntarily wrote following her very first blood donation. Please be sure to share it with your friends who are not yet blood donors as a bit of encouragement to give it a try.

Can you believe it's already been (more than) 56 days since I donated blood for the first time? Though the reminder card on my fridge said I'd be eligible to donate again on the 11th, I hadn't done anything about it until I received a thick envelope of information from Stanford Blood Center yesterday. It included lots of information on their programs and a card with my new donor ID number, name, and blood type - I think so that future donations can go faster. If nothing else it made me feel especially legit.

Unfortunately blood donors are an exclusive club. Of the less than 38% of Americans eligible to donate blood, only about 5% actually do (Red Cross, Mayo Clinic). In the Bay Area, of approximately 7.1 million residents, only 39% are eligible to donate at any given time, and of that only about 3% actually donate (Stanford Blood Center). Compare that to the U.S. population where 24% have a bachelor's degree and 9% have an advanced degree. Here's to being extra special, in much less time and without costing a dime.

The materials also included a link to a website where I could log in with that ID number to see my wellness stats including cholesterol, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature from each donation -- hey, a free mini physical every two months! And in case you care, my iron was actually a little above average (despite not eating red meat since middle school -- thanks to routine consumption of baby spinach, walnuts, Centrum Ultra Women's, and Lucky Charms) and my blood pressure was a "normal low" in the "athlete" range (a proud moment, I hope I can keep up... err down). Of course that may also be because at 5'2" I'm the size of a child, but we'll just stick with the athlete part.

I felt extra empowered that I could make a difference when I found out that I'm in the lucky < 50% of Americans who do not have cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV is a member of the herpes family that can, and usually does, remain relatively dormant. Most otherwise healthy folks don't experience any symptoms but once you have it, it stays in your body for the rest of your life. To already high-risk patients -- organ transplant recipients, people with leukemia, and HIV positive individuals -- CMV can be deadly. Hence though it really makes absolutely no difference in my day to day life, it's awesome for blood donation because it means the blood I give can be given to patients with compromised immune systems. And I especially love that.

We are so "connected" to each other through various technical mediums, and yet so separated from each other. And despite medical advancements, this artificiality has yet to replace the lifeblood that connects our community. So if you're feeling a bit disillusioned -- especially among the cords (or lack there of) in Silicon Valley -- what more powerful way to reconnect and ground yourself in what's real than to donate blood?

As if saving lives + colorful bandages + stickers + cookies + juice aren't enough of an incentive for you to give, at Stanford Blood Center you'll also earn points each time you give -- and then you can trade those in for cool stuff at their Loyalty Store! I've already earned 100 points for my first donation at the Rivals for Life blood drive, and I think the number of points goes up each time you come back -- even higher if you donate a double unit of red cells. The t-shirts and what not are cool, but you better believe I'm going for the--that's right--Stanford Blood Center cycling jersey!!! No sweat, only 7,900 more points to go!


Click here to be taken to the original post on Kathy's blog.

Celebrate: Donate!


By Julie Ruel, Social Media Manager, Stanford Blood Center

Each morning, David Polnaszek gets up, changes into his Stanford Blood Center (SBC) hoodie, something he earned upon his tenth donation last year, and takes an hour-long walk around his neighborhood. Now that he’s retired from Microsoft, he has more time to devote to his passions including volunteering with the African Library Project and continuing his 24-time-a-year rendezvous with SBC.

I learned some fascinating information about the devoted platelet donor as he snacked on cookies and sipped juice in the refreshment area following his 415th donation. A former member of the military, David understands the importance of working together to serve those around you. In a few days he would be celebrating his retirement with 100 co-workers and family members and he took this opportunity to highlight blood donation as a great way to give back to the local community. In his retirement invitation and email announcement he asked for a non-traditional type of gift. “I have a special request of you to help me celebrate this milestone. My retirement goal is to have 500 people pledge to make a blood donation – please acknowledge that you will make a blood donation in the next 45 days by sending me an email with your commitment.” And I can't think of a better gift to give.

I found something else noteworthy about David as well. As you may or may not know, platelet donors can give a maximum of 24 times a year due to limitations in red blood cell and plasma loss. He described to me the spreadsheet he keeps for tracking his volume loss and other donation statistics. Also mapped in the spreadsheet are the dates of his visits and corresponding donation number for the year. He’ll give every week until number 24 is reached. Now that’s dedication!

Following his father’s example, David (pictured above celebrating his 400th donation) began donating blood just after graduating from high school. He has made it a personal goal to reach 600 lifetime blood donations. Sticking to his current routine, he has about seven and a half years to go. Retiring from blood donation is certainly not on his to-do list!

Thank you, David, for your loyalty to SBC and the patients we serve.

I invite you all to share your stories on our Twitter page of why you started donating blood. Please use the hashtag #whyigiveblood.

The Perfection of Red Blood Cells

By Billie Rubin, Hemoglobin’s Catabolic Cousin, reporting from the labs of Stanford Blood Center

Red Blood Cells (RBCs) have some particularly unusual characteristics for a cell. For one, they have a biconcave shape, giving both sides a "scooped-in" appearance.


They also lack a nucleus when fully mature. These traits help them do the job they do. Without a nucleus they have more space to carry the gases they transport (oxygen and carbon dioxide). They also have less mass. If RBCs had a nucleus, blood would have more mass and the heart would have to work 20% harder.

In addition, the RBC's biconcave shape gives them more flexibility to squeeze into small capillaries (which are only slightly larger than the RBC itself) and a maximum surface area to facilitate the transfer of the gases they carry. They are the picture of perfection for just what they do.

Trish Leeper: Blood Drive Coordinator Extraordinaire

By Erin Crager, Marketing Intern, Stanford Blood Center

The purr of the Bloodmobile emits through crisp morning air. Parked just outside MIPS Technologies, its presence has become the norm here. Four times each year, blood drive coordinator Trish Leeper rallies the troops, spreading the word around the various departments of the company. Throughout the day, employees trickle out and make their way over to take their turn sitting in the reclined cardinal-red chairs.

Trish has the blood drive down to a science. Through posters, e-mails and word of mouth, she encourages employees to consider donating and routine donors to continue giving, always being mindful of her boundaries. “I’ll tease them if I see them in the hallway,” she says across a taupe conference table, taking time out of her busy day as director of human resources. Adding this responsibility to her job came naturally to Trish, as she’s accustomed to working closely with each of the MIPS employees.

Trish excels at her obligations as a blood drive coordinator. She, her husband, and two sons are regular donors at MIPS drives. She even makes sure to invite a neighboring company to participate, usually resulting in a few extra donors. For years, Trish and her account manager at Stanford Blood Center (SBC) have worked closely together to make this drive a success; something SBC has come to depend on to help save lives.

For more information on becoming a blood drive coordinator at your company or organization, please click here.

The Four Humours


By Billie Rubin, Hemoglobin’s Catabolic Cousin, reporting from the labs of Stanford Blood Center

Once upon a time (from early Greek and Roman physicians to the late 19th century), "blood-letting," now known as phlebotomy, was a very popular practice to cure or prevent illness. The theory was that a mystical equilibrium between several bodily fluids (humours) maintained human life. Excess blood would disturb that balance and result in illness.

The four humours were: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Too much black bile made you melancholic, too much yellow bile made you choleric, too much phlegm made you phlegmatic, and too much blood made you sanguine. The four humours were related to the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. All four of these elements were said to be in the blood in the form of humours.


So, next time you see those blood bank phlebotomists out there, remember they are not just collecting blood, they are practicing the most ancient form of healing: bringing equilibrium back to the people.

Increasing the Odds

By Julie Ruel, Social Media Manager, Stanford Blood Center

Question: How might we increase the number of registered bone marrow donors to help save more lives?

Katie Pfeiffer, Communications Director at the Haas Center for Public Service, recently invited me to get Stanford Blood Center involved in their campaign with OpenIDEO, a creative online community centered around social good, to gather answers to this question. By reaching out to our blood donors and friends, we open this up to the ideas and inspirations of a new group of individuals. Ultimately, the goal of this campaign is to register 100,000 new people on the national bone marrow registry, complementing the efforts of 100K Cheeks, a Stanford-based student advocate group.

100K Cheeks - that catchy name sounded familiar. I recently learned that it refers to the cheek swabs used to collect the cells needed for tissue-typing. The group was also taking registry sign-ups (52 total!) at our last Stanford Hospital blood drive.

So in response to Katie’s invitation, there was no hesitation from our end. Their campaign fits seamlessly with what we do everyday. Whether someone is signing up to donate blood or to be a potential bone marrow donor, they’re signing up to save a life.

Bone Marrow Transplant Stories

An individual living in China made a decision one day to register as a bone marrow donor. Mike Wu, living in the Bay Area, had no reason to know what was taking place that day and what it would eventually mean for him. He was diagnosed with leukemia in January MikeKissing.jpg2003 and told he needed a bone marrow transplant. Because of the voluntary decision of the stranger across the world, Mike received the transplant and has a new lease on life. He and his wife are avid cyclists and ride to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Sameer Bhatia was on a business trip in Mumbai when he began feeling sick. He assumed the intense heat and humidity were responsible for his symptoms but visited his doctor to be sure. His white blood cell count was found to be abnormal and the diagnosis was leukemia. Given weeks to live, he, his friends and family set out to find a bone marrow match, his only chance of survival. They were told the chance of finding a match for someone of South Asian decent was 1 in 20,000. Through a powerful social media campaign, they registered over 24,000 people… and found a match.
Tragically, Sameer eventually succumbed to the disease. However, because of the number of new registrations collected through the work of his team, over 250 other matches were found.

Sadly, there are many individuals needing bone marrow transplants, desperately looking for a match, and left waiting with little hope. Together, we are asking for your help.


Submit your ideas

Register as a bone marrow donor

Spread the word:

Where Are the A & B Antigens on a Red Blood Cell?

By Billie Rubin, Hemoglobin’s Catabolic Cousin, reporting from the labs of Stanford Blood Center

Well, think of a little red blood cell (RBC) in 3D with lots of tiny little hairs sticking out of it. Type A people have about 1,000,000 of these hairs on each RBC and at the end of the hair is an A. Type B people have about 700,000 hairs with a B at the end of it. And AB people have about 600,000 hairs with A's and 700,000 hairs with B's at the ends. Don't you wonder who in the world counted these hairs? Science is strange.

Then of course we have the type O's. They just have lots of hairs with nothing at the end of them. The hairs are so tiny that you can't see them under a microscope, but they are lurking there, believe you me...They are little chemical structures on the RBC membrane that determine the ABO type (along with the antibodies in your plasma).

Scarlett Loves Mountain View

By Scarlett O'Negative

Mountain View has so much going for it. Take high tech companies, for example. MV is home to Google, Symantec, Intuit, and many start ups. Some of these might even be the next high tech leaders. Personally, I love SmugMug, the photo sharing site. Isn’t that such a great name?

All these clever programmers need to eat and there’s no shortage of foodie places on Castro Street, the main drag. Pick your cuisine: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican,Turkish, and many more.

Mountain View offers an assortment of diverse cultural and recreational opportunities. The Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, a stunning architectural beauty, hosts a variety of events. Shoreline Park has a boating lake and miles of paths for walking and cycling, which are linked to beautiful Steven’s Creek Trail.

The NASA Ames Research Center is located at Moffett Field, complete with a very big wind tunnel. If that’s too stratospheric for you, there’s Airship Ventures, which runs flights in one of only two zeppelins in the world.

With good jobs, good food, and lots of recreation, local residents are hopefully happy and healthy. When they do need care, they may turn to El Camino Hospital for help. POPSCI calls El Camino the most technologically advanced hospital in the world. When patients need blood, local community minded employees and residents can donate at Stanford Blood Center’s Mountain View location, close by the hospital. Local blood for local people. That’s community spirit.

Lifesaving Research at Stanford Blood Center


By Erin Crager, Marketing Intern, Stanford Blood Center

The collateral damage associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment may soon be a thing of the past. Medical students have traditionally been taught that the body’s immune system generally doesn’t turn on itself, even in the presence of a tumor. But Ed Engleman, MD and his research team at Stanford Blood Center have developed a method for training the body’s immune system to do just that for prostate cancer. Their research over the past eighteen years has opened new doors for potentially curing other forms of cancer, as well.

At the moment, the process works by removing white blood cells from the body and training them to fight specific cancerous cells that make up the tumor. Engleman compares it to the way a vaccine works. “What we’re trying to do is to use these cells to educate the immune system to fight the cancer and essentially that’s what you do with a preventative vaccine.” The major difference is this “vaccine” is used for advanced prostate cancer. The difficulty with fighting tumors often has to do with the fact that cancerous cells look identical to cells that make up the tissue from which they derived. Without immunotherapy, as the process is called, the immune system cannot distinguish between these two.

Engleman and his team chose to study prostate cancer for many reasons, but a major deciding factor was that the prostate gland is not essential to live. Before clinical trials were under way, a major concern was the potential for collateral damage in the tissue from which the cancer originated. In the case of prostate cancer this wouldn’t prove to be as detrimental as lung or colon cancer, for example.

The process has proved to be quite accurate, which raises the question of whether other forms of cancer can be cured using the same method. There is still one more hurdle for prostate immunotherapy. Cost. Currently the three-day process of removing cells from the body is laborious and thus quite expensive. Engleman believes that some day it will be possible to train the body’s immune system without isolating the white blood cells. For the time being, the process relies on removal.

Engleman suggested the likelihood that immunotherapy will eventually oust chemo and radiation therapy as the dominant forms of cancer treatment, noting that combining all three could be a much more effective way of treating cancer.

He was quick to point out the importance of the source of research material—the blood donors. “This would not have been possible without the Blood Center. We have the buffy coats from the donors, without which we wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to isolate these cells. And without the cooperation of the nursing staff and the research staff, none of this would have been possible.”

Click here to watch Engleman's talk on this subject at a recent Cafe Scientifique event.

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