Bloodworks Beyond Borders: My Best-Kept Secret

June 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm

By: Susan Peck

This month, join Bloodworks Global Health Ambassador Susan Peck on an eye-opening journey through eastern Africa. In partnership with the Bloodworks Center for Global Impact, Susan will visit Tanzania and Kenya to learn about the state of blood transfusion throughout the African continent and report how Bloodworks is making blood more accessible to patients in need. Susan is a dedicated blood donor and a former Bloodworks Board of Trustees member—this is her first travel log.

Bloodworks Global Health Ambassador Susan Peck with her dog, Mojo.

“Best-kept secrets” aren’t always a good thing, especially when you have something to crow about. For example, Bloodworks Northwest is known as the community blood center throughout Western Washington and Oregon. But what many people might not know about—my best-kept secret—is the organization’s work to bring about change in the global medical landscape.

This month the Bloodworks Center for Global Impact is returning to the African continent, where our team is working to make blood more accessible to people in remote locations. This is especially critical for women in these areas who die in huge numbers during or after giving birth.

I had no idea that so many mothers died during the birthing process—and I was shocked to learn that even here in the United States, more women are dying from pregnancy-related complications than in any other developed country. The motto that resonated with me is “no woman should die giving life.”

Susan, pictured with other members of the Bloodworks Board of Trustees.

So I’m going to Africa to see Bloodworks’ efforts to help mothers and other patients—and to share those stories with you. I’ll attend the African Society for Blood Transfusion Congress in Tanzania to learn about maternal health and blood availability across the continent, then travel to Eldoret, Kenya where I’ll observe Bloodworks innovations in action.

“Why me?” I have asked myself. I am not a doctor, researcher or diplomat—I’m your common Jane. A bit about me: I was a member of the Bloodworks Board of Trustees during the mid-nineties when I was the only woman among businessmen, doctors and attorneys—all a good 20 years older than I. (Since then, more women have joined the board, which is now led by Holli Harris, a remarkable woman in her own right!) I was a stay-at-home mother of two elementary children. I give blood because I see this as a service I can physically provide my brothers and sisters.

Susan with her husband, Bowen, daughter, Annalee and Mojo.

Why me? Well, why not me? Bloodworks is altering the medical landscape in stride with Fred Hutchinson, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Northwest Kidney Centers and many other healthcare giants. To be at the forefront during these progressive times is and has been a treat. To consume with my own eyes and experience the progression of lifesaving research makes me feel a part of it. Sharing with you what I see on the African continent, how I interact with its people and the knowledge I will gain at the transfusion congress will enrich my life. Being a part of the Bloodworks team is an honor and I am so excited to be a reporter and Global Health Ambassador.

The Bloodworks Center for Global Impact is dedicated to developing and implementing healthcare delivery innovations in underserved regions around the world. Learn more and support the Center’s lifesaving work by making a donation today

Giving a Pint-Sized Patient a Big Boost in Vancouver

June 8, 2018 at 8:58 am

Author’s Note: Your share how giving and receiving blood changes your life through many different avenues: on social media, via email and in person. This particular story came about in a more unusual way—through a partnership with Einstein Bros. Bagels. As you might have heard, every Sunday morning we provide free Einstein Bros. egg bagel sandwiches at select Bloodworks Donor Centers. It just so happened that our Einstein Bros. catering liaison, Ben Lepley, has a young son who relies on blood transfusions. Until our Brunch on Bloodworks partnership, Ben had no idea Bloodworks donors supply that lifesaving blood. This is his family’s story.  

For Ben Lepley from La Center, Washington, the scariest part was not knowing what was wrong. His then one-year-old son Frank—a cheerful toddler with feathery blond hair and wide blue eyes—had become lethargic, his face a sick yellowish tinge.

It seemed serious enough that Ben and his wife Nikola drove Frank to Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington for a medical examination. “The doctor told us ‘I don’t know what this is. We’ll figure it out but I need you guys to be prepared for news,’” Ben said. “It’s like one of those things you see on TV—they were talking about leukemia, or some of these super scary diseases.”

It wasn’t leukemia, but there was still cause for concern. Frank was diagnosed hemolytic anemia, a rare blood disorder that makes his oxygen-carrying red blood cells self-destruct before their normal lifespan is over. As a result, his heart has to work much harder to spread oxygen through his body, leading to exhaustion, loss of appetite and that tell-tale jaundice facial coloring.

To the Lepley family’s great relief, they learned Frank’s condition was manageable thanks to one key ingredient: blood from local Bloodworks donors. Each month, Nikola takes Frank to Legacy Medical Center for an oxygen level check-up. When his oxygen invariably registers too low, nurses inject a child-sized bag of red blood cells into his tiny arm.

Frank with his sisters Sam (left) and Ana (right).

According to Ben, the effect is almost immediately perceptible. “It makes a huge difference,” he said. “He goes from yellow and lethargic and not wanting to eat to coming home and eating a ton. His color comes back.” While Ben admits Frank is unlikely to ever to bounce off the walls with energy, he notices blood transfusions help bring out his now two-year-old’s joyful, humorous side.

Hemolytic anemia is a challenge, but Ben said he’s grateful for a supportive medical team and generous local blood donors who give Frank a chance at a normal life. “Blood donations support the lives of all sizes of people for all different reasons. It’s impacted my life way more than I ever thought it would.” And that’s one thing he knows for sure.

You can make a difference in the lives of local children like Frank. Sign up to give blood at a Bloodworks location near you, or learn more about our Brunch on Bloodworks Sunday program at our North & Central Seattle, Bellevue, Lynnwood, Tukwila and Federal Way donor centers.

Bloodworks First Person: “I dream about curing hemophilia and owning a coffee shop in the Caribbean.”

June 6, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Welcome to Bloodworks First Person, a series profiling Bloodworks Northwest employees, volunteers and donors by asking them a few questions about their work and lives. Today you’ll meet Dr. Rebecca Kruse-Jarres, medical director of Bloodworks’ Washington Center for Bleeding Disorders which helps patients with hemophilia and Von Willebrand disease be healthy and independent.

Name: Rebecca Kruse-Jarres

Currently, I’m working on… keeping all the balls in the air.

A very dear patient and my wonderful mentor, Cindy Leissinger…sparked my interest in my field.

I chose to come to Bloodworks because… I wanted to work with a patient population and community I care for very much – in an environment filled with curiosity to understand and improve the care for bleeding disorders.

I get most excited about my work when… my patients and team are happy.

If I could tell blood donors one thing, it would be… thank you, thank you, thank you (I guess those are 3 things).

My blood type is… A neg.

On Saturday mornings you can find me… sipping a cup of coffee enjoying the view from my home (if I am fortunate enough to be there and not travelling to a meeting or conference).

I’m currently reading… a medical journal, but can’t wait for the next good book.

When I have an hour of free-time, you’ll find me… What hour of free time?

My secret talent is… Hugs. I love to give hugs

My favorite hobby is… building something and physical activity.

You’ll never find me without… the will to find a silver lining.

The best advice I’ve ever received is… to find a husband that makes you smile.

I dream about one day… curing hemophilia and owning a coffee shop in the Caribbean…or hiking all the trails of Washington…or building bookcases in my living room…or going skiing for a whole month…or sitting in an Airstream in a remote campground sipping coffee with my husband on an early summer morning.

Do you know someone who’s making a difference as a part of the Bloodworks community? Send your suggestions for future Bloodworks First Person profiles to feedback@bloodworksnw.org. 

Molly’s Story: “Without blood, I would not be here.”

May 13, 2018 at 9:05 am

Molly Firth knows her way around health statistics. In fact, with a master’s degree in public health and more than a decade’s experience directing healthcare policy, she’s a verifiable expert. But when it came to her pregnancy with her daughter Clara, she couldn’t have predicted the traumatic turn her labor would take, or her sudden need for blood and expert care.

Fortunately, Molly gave birth at a hospital where Bloodworks Northwest ensured a strong blood supply and clear medical protocols. For many other new mothers in Washington and across the United States, this isn’t the case. Help us give all mothers the care they deserve by making a donation–and keep reading for highlights from Molly’s recent interview on the Bloodworks Happenings podcast.

On her unexpected birth experience: “I went into childbirth thinking that I was going to have a natural delivery, which was hilarious in retrospect because I did not. I immediately had an epidural and I ended up laboring for a really long time.  After about three hours of pushing, the doctor was like ‘You know, baby’s not really dropping, we might need to do a c-section.’  The baby came out–it was a girl–and soon after that, I started feeling a lot of pain. At some point I lost consciousness and woke up the next morning in the ICU very confused.

On waking up in the ICU: “I remember thinking, ‘Why am I in the hospital? Did I have a baby? Was I pregnant?’ I learned that I had lost a lot of blood, I’d had a seven-unit blood transfusion. It was very traumatic and not what I expected. You do not go into childbirth thinking you’re going to wake up in the ICU–you think you’re going to have the experience that everyone has when they get to hold their baby and have skin to skin contact right away.”

On connecting the dots: “I later learned I was bleeding at a rapid rate and the placenta wasn’t coming away from my uterus. What they thought had happened was this condition called placenta accreta which they confirmed in the pathology. If there was not blood there, I would not be here. They were just pumping the blood in and trying to stop it from bleeding out.”

On learning she’s not alone: “I’ve come to find out since that [postpartum hemorrhaging] is actually fairly common–frighteningly common. I learned that about 700-900 women die each year in the U.S. during or soon after childbirth and about 50,000 women a year experience life-threatening complications. That’s kind of a big deal. The scope is just so significant and you don’t expect that in a country like the United States.”

To celebrate Clara’s first birthday, Molly and her family hosted a blood drive. Molly also rolled up her sleeve in honor of the blood that saved her life and continues to help many other new mothers. Like Molly, you never know when you might need blood. This Mother’s Day, make a gift to Bloodworks to ensure the blood and expert care is available for those you love most.

Standing Strong For Diverse Patients

April 26, 2018 at 1:26 am
For Shona Carter from Vancouver, Washington, a shocking diagnosis provides an opportunity to advocate for more diverse blood and bone marrow donors. 

Shona is no stranger to cancer. Her husband was treated for a stomach tumor in 2012. And in 2005, her friend passed away from Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in bone marrow’s blood-forming myeloid cells.

At the time of her friend’s diagnosis, Shona was working as a philanthropy executive in the Bay Area, advocating equal access to education and healthcare, among other causes. Leading a fundraiser for her friend through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was a natural extension of her skills. But looking back, Shona is surprised about the one thing she missed.

“Through the whole process, going to gatherings, there was never an emphasis on how people of color have a harder time finding a bone marrow match,” she said. In fact, according to the Be the Match National Donor Marrow Program, “rich heritage, complex tissue types and a smaller pool of potential donors” make it harder for thousands of black and African American patients with life-threatening blood diseases to find a match.

“Rich heritage, complex tissue types and smaller pool of donors make it harder for thousands of black and African American patients to find a match.”

As an African American woman, Shona would become increasingly aware of these odds following her own eerily familiar diagnosis.

***

She’d been tired, but this was different. Sluggish with fatigue, Shona thought “I need to work out more.” But in fall 2017, one gym membership and a personal training session later, she felt worse than before. “The symptoms started feeling like heavy pressure on my heart,” she recalled. “I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs. Eventually there was some numbness in my fingertips which made me think I was having a heart attack.”

“There was some numbness in my fingertips which made me think I was having a heart attack.”

A blood test at her local hospital revealed two possibilities—one more terrifying than the other: “They told me it was probably anemia, but it could be leukemia.” The hospital staff administered an energy-infusing blood transfusion (“I felt like I could run laps again,” she recalled) and told her to stay the night. The next morning, her diagnosis was confirmed: Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML. By December 2017, AML cells had infiltrated Shona’s bone marrow and chemotherapy was imperative.

Through two rounds of chemotherapy, Shona was sustained by 33 units of blood from Bloodworks donors. “After treatment, your blood levels get really low so you’re getting blood transfusions almost every other day,” she noted. Today, she continues to receive monthly blood and platelet transfusions in outpatient care as she waits for the next step in her treatment—a bone marrow transplant through Be the Match.

Joe Wilson signed up new Be the Match bone marrow donors at a blood drive in Shona’s honor.

Shona is uncertain about the future in part because there aren’t enough diverse donors to ensure a perfect bone marrow match—an issue facing diverse patients in the Pacific Northwest and across the country. “There’s less awareness among people of color to think about donating bone marrow,” she explained. A lack of diverse blood donors also affects minority patients like Shona who rely on a steady stream of compatible blood transfusions. For people of color who receive multiple transfusions, the more perfectly matched the blood is to their own blood, the better the medical outcome can be.

“If you’re healthy and you want to make a difference, this takes no money–it just takes willingness to give of your time.”

For now, Shona plans to move ahead with a “half match” obtained through a cord blood or stem cell donation. “It’s thought to have a good chance of success, but to be less effective than an exact bone marrow match,” she said. On a given day, she vacillates between fear and hope. But true to her philanthropic roots, she’s determined to use this experience to encourage more people, especially communities of color, to become involved and be a blood and bone marrow donor. “Get more information,” she said, speaking to potential donors. “If you’re a healthy individual and you want to make a difference, this takes no money–it just takes willingness to give of your time.”

You can help diverse patients like Shona access the care they need. Give blood at a Bloodworks Donor Center near you, add your name to the National Marrow Registry, and let your friends, colleagues and family know about the need for more diverse donors.

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