On Being (and Inspiring) Women In Science

February 7, 2018 at 12:55 pm

In honor of International Women and Girls in Science Day on February 11, Bloodworks Northwest’s Dr. Sherrill Slichter and Dr. Emily Fawcett spoke with KIRO-FM Radio about what it’s like to be women in science – and how adults can help more young women pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Below, we’ve highlighted some of their most thoughtful, motivating – and surprising – insights and advice.

For more inspiration, join us at the Pacific Science Center’s Science in the City event on Feb. 20, where Dr. Slichter will discuss her challenges and triumphs as a gender trailblazer.

From Dr. Sherrill Slichter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dr. Slichter is Bloodworks’ Director of Platelet Transfusion. With a career spanning more than 50 years, her platelet and blood cell clotting research is credited with making bone marrow transplantation possible, extending the lives of cancer patients around the world.

On responding to bullies: “When I went to medical school, they had restricted admissions for women, so there were only five women. This gentleman sat down next to me and recognized me as being one of his classmates. He bent over and said, ‘Do you understand that you’re taking the place of someone who could use this education?’ I really didn’t respond because what can you say? The guy was an idiot.”

On the value of educating women: “Of the five women who were there, every single one of us practiced medicine and – with the exception of a couple of us – still are practicing medicine.”

On believing in yourself: “My high school biology professor, when I wanted to take math, chemistry and physics, said ‘You can’t possibly do that, you’re going to flunk out.’ And I just said, ‘The guys are doing it, why can’t I do it?'”

On enjoying your life: “Just pick your passion. Pick what you’re interested in and go for it. . . Life is a long time. You better like what you’re doing or it’s going to seem even longer.”

From Dr. Emily Fawcett

Dr. Fawcett (pictured above, center) is Bloodworks’ Science Engagement Officer.  A graduate of the University of Washington’s Molecular and Cellular Biology program, she is passionate about making science accessible to everyone through creative, educational pop-up events throughout Western Washington and Oregon.

On walking in the footsteps of other women: “I went to graduate school to get my PhD in molecular and cellular biology and – very different from Sherrill’s experience – my class was majority female. I think that says a lot about the path that was paved by the people who came before us.”

On finding inspiration for young girls: “Lego just came out with a Women of NASA series. In mainstream, having someone to look at – even a little Lego in a lab coat – speaks volumes.”

Thank you, Dr. Slichter and Dr. Fawcett. For more information, listen to the full interview or join us on Feb. 20!

Blood Donations Saved My Premature Twins’ Lives

December 26, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Your gift saves lives.

By: DeAnne, mother of twins Mason and Justin.  

When you support Bloodworks, you ensure crucial blood supplies are available to families in need. You’re not just saving a single life. In cases like mine, you’re giving two newborns an opportunity to live.

Twelve years ago, I was thrilled to learn I was pregnant with twins. What could be more exciting! It was my first pregnancy and everything was happening just as it should. That is, until at 22 weeks, I went into premature labor. It was incredibly scary and I feared for the lives of my boys. At the hospital they told me that if my boys were born now they would have a 10 percent chance of survival.

After four weeks of bed rest, my boys were born at 26 weeks. Mason weighed just 2 pounds, 1 ounce when he was born, and Justin weighed even less—1 pound, 13 ounces. Those extra four weeks meant my sons’ chance of survival skyrocketed to 90%, but they were still struggling.

Both boys needed multiple blood transfusions—Mason received four and Justin needed five transfusions, all from Bloodworks Northwest.

To this day I can remember the doctors telling me what a great job Bloodworks does taking care of premature babies. They explained to me that because premature babies don’t need much blood, they can take partial amounts from one blood donor. I could see it was making a difference, making them stronger day by day, so that they could come home and we could be a family.

Those were five frightening months in my life. Now I have two awesome 11-year-old boys who are amazing students, love to learn about science and explore, and are just grateful to be here experiencing life. Thanks to you. When I see blood drives happening, I want to go over and give those donors (you!) a hug and tell you that what you’re doing at one time affected me personally, and helped save my kids.

Your blood has saved the lives of more people than you know. And today, your gift can reach even more. Just as blood from donors like you provides the units needed to perform hundreds of transfusions a day, your financial gift ensures that every single transfusion is safe for the newest life to the wisest. Make your gift today.

Thank you,
DeAnn

First Person: It’s the Strangers that Save You

November 24, 2017 at 1:49 pm

By: Bill Harper

Bill stands on Alki Beach

The author standing at Alki Beach.

The first time I ever got a blood transfusion was seven years ago in a hospital in Dakar, Senegal. The last and 264th time was five years ago, I was at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and I was cancer-free.

In Senegal, I was 20 years old, had a bruise up the length of my upper right arm, and thought the reason why I was so thin, pale, tired, and feverous was that I was a white kid from the Pacific Northwest not genetically equipped for the 120-degree summer heat of the Sahara Desert.

But the blood bags kept coming; another, it seemed, every few hours and many of them filled with some liquid the color of fresh honey and labeled “Plaquettes,” the French word, I would later learn, for “Platelets.” For four days, I received almost-constant blood and platelet transfusions, and nobody told me why. But when a medevac flight took me to a hospital in Nuremberg, Germany and as I passed beneath a sign that read “oncology,” it occurred to me that I never really knew what that word meant. It wouldn’t be long until I found out.

It would take three years, 32 surgeries, chemo, radiation, a stem cell transplant from a young woman from Oklahoma and 264 more blood transfusions to cure me of cancer and clean up the mess it made inside me. My heroes are surgeons, nurses, oncologists, an Oklahoman girl whose love for her brothers motivated her to save my life, and 265 altruistic strangers whose blood kept me alive when my own body turned against me.

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My big sister Erin was weeding her garden in Coupeville, Washington, in early July 2010 when she got the phone call nobody ever sees coming. It was the perfect summer day – the sun was shining, the air was still and her big yellow dog Max was snoozing in some dust next to her.

That phone call was from me. I was in Nuremberg, Germany – somewhere I wasn’t even supposed to be – and I was calling her to tell her I had leukemia.

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Bill standing with a few of things he loves: cars and planes.

It found me in the deserts of West Africa, 9,000 miles away from home in a place where I spent late summer nights under the brightest night sky I’d ever seen listening to Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” on repeat and thinking about a girl I was pretty sure I was in love with. I had been working on a research project for school in Senegal when I started feeling sick.

It all started in a microscopic place in my bone marrow. That’s what the science says, but if you asked me, I’d say it started in the part of my back that I’ve have never really been able to scratch. We’ve always been at odds, that spot and me, and being the place in my body where my cancer began would be a hell of a power play.

You don’t feel it when you get cancer; it doesn’t tap you on the shoulder or put its hand out to for you to shake. And for as momentous of a thing as it is, it comes on with very little fanfare.

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Two weeks after arriving in Dakar, a long, purple and splotchy bruise stretching from my shoulder down to my elbow appeared. How strange, I thought, for extreme heat to cause something like that.

And then out in the desert, my skin turned stark and eggshell-white and I developed dark spots in my vision – leukemia cells had found their way even into my eyeballs and detached my retinas. I hemorrhaged weight and developed a high fever – my body’s confused, last-ditch effort to stop the rogue cells’ overwhelming, unchecked aggression. Unstoppable now.

Back in Dakar and preparing to go home, my breaths were barely enough to get me up the flight of stairs to our apartment. I was panting and light headed halfway up, for when the air reached the alveoli in my lungs, they were hardly any red blood cells there to be oxygenated. And my finger, pricked by a nurse in a side-street doctor’s office, took far too long to stop bleeding.

Millions of mutated, self-righteous white blood cells – the bloodstream bullies – were silently taking over, crowding out my platelets and red blood cells for the cruelly simple reason that they could.

The mutant cells floated into my toes, my fingertips, my cerebral spinal fluid, my lungs, and even my brain stem; no part of me could hide from them. Every single heartbeat pushed them further and further into my most outlying capillaries and sealed my fate tighter.

My body, outflanked and outgunned, had created a monster.

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Part of Bill’s Seattle Cancer Care Alliance transplant team.

After an emergency medevac flight to Nuremberg, Germany, I met up with my mother and we found ourselves in a bright-white patient room in the oncology wing of an enormous hospital. She, unlike me, knew what the word “oncology” meant and, as a hospital employee herself, also knew that there’s only ever one reason why people go to that unit.

She shot up in her chair when the doctor came in and extended his hand – she was nervous, pained, terrified. She leaned in towards him and took my hand.

That doctor was tall, brown-haired and Germanic, soft spoken but authoritative. He asked me what they had told me in Senegal. “Nothing,” I said. “They gave me a ton of blood but they never told me why.” This was a quirk of the old French colonial medical system still used in Senegal today whereby patients are not informed of suspected diagnoses, only confirmed ones. It must be malaria, I’d thought, or yellow fever – something that would have made sense.

The doctor seemed surprised and drew a long breath, leaning back on his little round wheeled stool, nodding almost imperceptibly.

My big sister, 7,000 miles away, was just waking up. It was sunny outside, a good day for gardening.

“Oh,” the doctor said, leaning forward. “You have leukemia.”

The sound my mother made as her back doubled over and tears broke free from her eyes was not a cry or a whimper or a moan. It was a sound that can only come from a mother whose heart, full of love, hope and joy since the moment she first laid eyes on her son is shattering into million pieces and she’s crumbling.

That was the worst day of my life until the day came a month later when the oncologists came in to say that my only shot at a second chance depended on the kindness and stem cells of a stranger who may or may not even exist. That’s when I got scared.

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Bill and his stem cell donor, Kathryne, when they met in 2014.

Kathryne Taylor is a 31-year-old vegetarian food blogger from Oklahoma City with a degree in advertising, a spotted, mid-sized dog named Cookie and a conviction for healthy eating bordering on the religious. She has a wide smile, long, wavy brown hair and every day I have lived since January 11, 2011 has been thanks to her. Because that was the day she donated some of her stem cells to me in a tiny bag that seemed far too small for what it contained: the rest of my life.

I had to wait five years for my doctors to consider me “cured” from leukemia. What Kathryne did for me that day is far from the only help I had to reach that zenith of cancer recovery, but without it, everything else – the chemo, scary radiation sessions, 32 surgeries, and 265 blood transfusions – would have made no difference.

And that, to a guy who was only 20 years old, hadn’t even graduated from college yet or made it to the south of France, was just no way to live.

In the span of just one sole afternoon, Kathryne gave me a second, a fighting, and a best chance. And she didn’t even know my name.

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As my sibling, Erin had a 25 percent chance of being a suitable stem cell donor match for me and desperate to help me, she’d decided that giving me her stem cells was going to be how she’d do it. She was devastated when she found out she couldn’t.

But Kathryne is an older sister too; she’s even the same age as Erin and one of her two younger brothers is the same age as me. And it was her love for her brothers – the same kind that broke Erin’s heart – that inspired Kathryne to join the stem cell donor registry as soon as she turned 18.

That and an episode of the silly TV high school melodrama Popular where one of the young characters, sick with leukemia, struggles to find someone closely matched enough to be his stem cell donor.

That character’s story resonated with Kathryne. She couldn’t imagine the pain and powerlessness she’d feel if one of her brothers ever got leukemia and she wasn’t a match to save them. She made a promise to herself to join the registry as soon as she turned 18 and she kept it.

“I just felt a really strange sort of calling to be on it,” she said to me once. “I just imagined being in another older sister’s existent or non-existent shoes and really hoping that the person out there who could help my brother would help him. I just would hope that someone would do that for my brothers or for me if we were in that position.”

Six years later, my older sister became one of those sisters and I became one of those brothers. So that feeling Kathryne had when she was just 17 wasn’t a feeling at all, but a premonition that connected two seemingly-random people with 2,000 miles between them just because one of them needed the other to save his life.

Some might call that God’s work and some might call it fate, but I call it the very best of humanity and I call her my hero.

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In September, Kathryne got a letter in the mail that said, like she somehow foresaw six years earlier, there really was someone out there who might need her. She found out she was the best donor candidate for the unnamed patient in need – me – and she got additional testing done right away to make sure she was healthy enough to donate. She was.

About a month later and after a five-day course of a medication that stimulated stem cell production in her bone marrow, she went to the Oklahoma Blood Institute, where an apheresis machine filtered out her stem cells for three hours. When she was finished, her family prayed over the little bag before the nurse handed it off to an airport-bound courier.

And so, on the snowy night of January 11, 2011, her stem cells, her immune system, and her whole family’s prayers arrived in my hospital room in an unceremonious little bag that had in it my only shot at a second chance. I kissed the little bag before the nurse hung it up on the IV pole, wishing the tiny cells well on their short journey into my bone marrow.

Today, Kathryne is one of the best friends I’ve ever had.  We’ve since found out that we both spent college semesters studying in France, have a passion for cooking and degrees in communication – hers in advertising, mine in journalism. Her brother drove through Nuremberg on the day my diagnosis there and her dad, like me, has a pilot’s license. We are kindred, both in spirit and in blood.

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We talk all the time about the kindness of strangers, usually about little things like people stopping to help you change a tire, holding the door open for you, or a community coming together to help a family rebuild after a tragedy. We don’t usually look for reasons to help people, and when it comes to the people like who need the kindness of a stranger to save their lives, we help them because everybody is somebody’s brother, sister, son, daughter, father or mother and, like Kathryne said, we only hope they’d do it for us too.

To me, Kathryne and those 265 blood donors epitomize what being human really means, because a world where someone will go out of their way to save a complete stranger’s life is a world built on the strongest of principles: human kindness.

Giving Birth Offers a Unique Opportunity to Give Life to Others

November 14, 2017 at 2:42 pm

For new moms like Keri, donating umbilical cord blood is a simple way to save a life.

In 1998, Keri Tawney’s father underwent treatment for multiple myeloma—a type of blood cancer—at the University of Washington Medical Center. Regular blood transfusions were an integral part of his treatment. Although he was a candidate for a stem cell transplant from his own bone marrow, Keri’s dad passed away before he was able to complete this treatment.

Keri decided to honor her father’s memory by donating the umbilical cord blood of her daughter, Kassie, born in 2006. Like bone marrow, umbilical cord blood contains stem cells that can help doctors treat myeloma, leukemia and other cancers and immune disorders.

After cord blood is collected it is processed, “typed,” tested and entered into the national transplantation registry. The units are available to patients in need both in the U.S. and around the world.

Keri recollects, “Donating my daughter’s cord blood gave me a sense of closure about my dad’s passing. Though it couldn’t help him, I knew Kassie’s cord blood could make a life-changing difference for someone else.”

That’s exactly what happened.

In April 2010, Keri received a call from Bloodworks Northwest’s Cord Blood Program: Kassie’s cord blood was a match for a similar-age boy with leukemia. After hearing the news, Keri was overwhelmed with emotion.

In a personal blog post about the receiving the call, Keri wrote: “The recipient family’s] road ahead is long, and the courage and will power required of this little boy will be beyond what most of us can ever comprehend, but I am so grateful that he has this chance, and so grateful to the Bloodworks Northwest cord blood donation program.”

Kassie isn’t old enough to know how her cord blood donation had a lifesaving impact. But Keri plans to tell her when she is old enough to understand. “She has an empathetic heart, and it will surely be meaningful to her,” Keri says.

Unfortunately, despite its lifesaving potential cord blood is often discarded. New moms don’t know about the opportunity to donate. BloodworksNW is working hard to spread the word and to make the process available in all maternity wards. Donating cord blood: one new life, and another life saved. What could be more powerful than that?

BloodworksNW created the first umbilical cord-blood program in the Pacific Northwest in 1997. Today we partner with 12 hospitals in Washington State, Oregon, and Hawaii. growing partnerships hold the promise of saving more lives, raising awareness about cord blood donation and increasing the availability of stem cells for transplantation. Find out more at BloodworksNW.org/cordblood.

Retired Army Vet Draws on Military Experience as a Bloodworks Northwest Volunteer

November 11, 2017 at 9:58 am

In some ways, John Ferdon saw himself as a professional dad. A former United States Army troop commander, he was responsible for young soldiers’ safety and well-being in Korea, day and night.

“It’s kind of like you’re a parent—you’re so involved in every facet of life,” he said. “Except, obviously, these aren’t kids—they’re soldiers. I had to make sure they had the skills necessary to do the things they were asked to do.”

John’s experience mentoring up-and-coming leaders shines in his role as a volunteer donor monitor at Bloodworks Northwest in Bellingham. As a volunteer, John supports donors at high school and college blood drives throughout Whatcom County. Part of the appeal, he said, is the interesting conversations that crop up—and the opportunity to inspire the next generation of blood donors.

“What really has impressed me at the high schools is the number of first-time donors,” he said. “They’re sixteen years old and they’re coming in to start donating blood.”

Like those young donors, John entered army service with little idea of the lifelong impact he could have. He joined the army in 1967 with the intention to serve for two years and get back to graduate school. But there was one problem: he really liked it.

John poses with Bloodworks volunteer coordinator Elizabeth Page’s daughter, Virginia, after presenting at her elementary school. 

Two years of active duty turned into 20. John went on to spend another 21 years in a civilian role as an army management analyst. For 15 of those total 41 years, he was stationed overseas in Korea, Vietnam and Germany.

According to John, military service helped him understand the power of a blood donation and instilled a sense of duty to give blood when possible.

“That was just something that was part of the army culture if you will—the importance of donating,” he said. “During the army and of course now with my volunteer work, I’m constantly meeting donors who voluntarily tell me how important this is either because they have needed blood or someone in their family or friends have needed it,” he said.

After more than four decades of military service, a little rest and relaxation was in order. But John and his wife, Margo, didn’t want to retire just anywhere. The appeal of Bellingham, Washington?

“Believe it or not, it was the weather,” John said.

Today, John is a member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and a regular volunteer with Bloodworks. As in his army days, he prizes the opportunity both organizations offer to connect with the community.

“Anywhere I’m stationed in the army, there’s always been a connection either within the army family or outside with the local communities,” he said. “I do feel that as veterans, we have an obligation to support our community and we do that just as much as we can.”

Bloodworks is profoundly grateful to John and all of America’s veterans for the service they have given and continue to give–as blood donors, volunteers, colleagues, and partners. Thank you for making our world a better place.

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