A Fond Farewell to a Line Dancing Bloodworks Legend

July 17, 2017 at 10:05 am

Velma 1

Velma Brooks is someone you remember. Bubbly and bright, she instantly puts you at ease. Indeed, over her years at Bloodworks Northwest, she made friends from all walks of life, including canteen monitors and pioneering platelet researcher Dr. Sherrill Slichter.

Last month, after 52 years, Velma retired from her role as Technician III in Bloodworks’ Product Manufacturing and Control Department. Her job? “It’s hard to explain,” she said. “You have to see to understand.” A quick tour through the labratory floor where blood is tested, separated into components, and prepared for shipment, reveals her decades of experience—and the advancements in transfusion medicine.

An Unexpected Career
Velma moved to Seattle from segregated Louisiana in 1964, a young, newly-married woman with a high school diploma in hand. She fell into the healthcare field almost by accident, filling in as a Bloodworks canteen worker while her sister-in-law took a maternity leave. Her sister-in-law never returned, and Velma stayed—and stayed. “I did the coffee making, the chocolate, put out the cookies, and of course, cleaned up the machines,” she said.

After returning from her own maternity leave in 1968, Velma was offered a role in what was called the “Plasma Department.” “And I said, yes!”  She had considered pursuing an office job, but thought better of it. “I’m so glad I didn’t . . . I don’t like sitting, I don’t like doing a lot of paperwork. I like being on the floor working with my co-workers.”

Velma 4

A Pioneering Platelet Partner
In 1970, Velma quietly supported Dr. Sherrill Slichter’s pioneering platelet research, which lead to significant advancements in platelet transfusion. She prepared the platelets according to Dr. Slichter’s specifications, carefully spinning and counting RPMs. “That was a very interesting time,” she said.

She stayed interested. Just three years ago, Velma was certified to run BacT inoculations, a process that detects bacteria in blood cultures.

According to Velma, Bloodworks has come a long way since those early days. Back then, “We would just collect the blood, receive it, and use it as whole blood,” she said. “As years went on, they started developing different types of processes for platelets, cryoprecipitate, different types of components you could utilize from a unit of whole blood.”

Velma 2

Rest, Relaxation, and Line Dancing
After over half a century in one place, it can be hard to image the next stage of life. To test the retirement waters, Velma took a staycation and visited her local recreation center. “The person in charge at the front desk, Joy, told me about different activities—line dancing because I did that for a while,” she said. “I met with Jonathan, and he’s going to show me how to use a computer like you’re supposed to, with folders.”

Full of line dancing and neatly organized computer folders, Velma’s future looks bright. But for the last 52 years, she said she’s glad to have called Bloodworks Northwest home. “I liked my coworkers. People here are nice. . . It’s like you belong. I wouldn’t have wanted to work in any other department.”

The Key to This Friendship: 100 Blood Donations & Counting

May 18, 2017 at 4:36 pm

What makes donating blood even easier? Having someone with you every step of the way.


Edie and Richard are longtime friends with something special in common: they have both donated 100 units of blood with Bloodworks Northwest.

The secret to their dedication? Each other!

Edie and Richard met at work and discovered they both liked to donate blood around lunchtime. When their jobs eventually took separate paths, they continued their dine-and-donate tradition.

“And that’s what we do now,” Edie said. “Every two months, we check back: ‘Hi, let’s give blood. Let’s eat lunch.”

Edie started donating as a college student in the early 70s, while Richard became familiar with blood drives during his time in the military. Today, they count Bloodworks Northwest staff and volunteers as old friends.


According to Edie and Richard, the key to consistent donation is a great support system—and some healthy competition, too.

“I think you can be a lot more consistent if you have someone that’s depending on you to be there,” Edie said. Richard added— “especially if she’s two pints ahead of you.”

When asked why they keep donating blood, Edie and Richard reflected on every individual’s lifesaving potential.

“It makes a big difference in somebody’s life,” Edie said. “Here you can donate something that isn’t money and you just grow it back. It’s no harm, no foul—a real nice kind of a deal.”

“It’s a fairly painless way of being a good citizen,” Richard said. “And you get free cranberry juice.”

Commemorating their 100-unit milestone, Edie and Richard added two golden leaves to the Tree of Life display at the Bloodworks Central Seattle Donor Center. With this honor, they join an elite group of donors uniquely driven to help people in their community.

What’s next for Edie and Richard? The two friends vow to continue donating—after all, it’s not every day you can save a life on lunch break.




Blood of Champions: Mr. Sounder’s Donation

April 21, 2017 at 3:35 pm


RCR_5499On a sunny, mid-April Thursday, Bloodworks Northwest confirmed what has been rumored for years: 15-year Sounders veteran, Zach Scott does, indeed, bleed rave green. While startling for some on hand at the downtown Seattle donation center, it will come as no surprise to fans of the MLS Champion.

When 3-year-old Jane was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer on St. Patrick’s Day, friends like Zach and Alana Scott asked her family how they could help. The family had a simple answer: donate blood and platelets. The Scotts already understood the vital role donors play in the fight against cancer as they have another family friend with a daughter fighting the disease. Eleven-year-old Avery Berg has been kicking brain cancer since last August. Her mother Kristie recently explained, “Avery has received three platelet transfusions just this week and countless platelet and blood transfusions since August. We literally couldn’t do this without donors.”



Zach and Alana scheduled their visit, rolled up their sleeves, and made their donation in honor of Avery and Jane. They encourage everyone to donate the gift of life, “Sounders fans have the biggest hearts and I know they will answer the call to support these young warriors in the fight of their lives.”

Each pint of blood donated will go towards helping patients like Avery, Jane, and other tiny warriors. And as Mr. Sounder himself exemplifies, anyone can make a difference.


In His Blood: How One Man’s Idea for the First Blood Bank Saved the World

March 16, 2017 at 1:32 pm

“The world and its creation is the great divine miracle before which humanity bows reverently, but not without hope of an ultimate better understanding”
-Dr. Bernard Fantus

On March 15, 1937, a Jewish Hungarian-American doctor named Bernard Fantus changed the world. Trained as both a pharmacist and a physician, his revolutionary idea for a “blood preservation laboratory” at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital aimed to solve what was, at the time, a persistent problem in medicine.

In the early 20th century, physicians with a patient who needed a blood transfusion would try in desperation to locate the patient’s friends and family members in the hope that there would be someone among them who had with the same blood type as their patient. But tragically, often doctors either weren’t able to find anyone with the correct blood type, or their patient would perish before they found someone suitable.

To Dr. Bernard Fantus, there had to be a better way. Surgery and medicine were becoming more complex, and the need for blood only grew. The early-1900s saw a significant amount of progress in the field of hematology throughout the globe. In 1901, Austrian physician Dr. Karl Landsteiner discovered the A, B and O human blood types and the following year, Drs. Alfred Decastello and Adriano Sturli discovered the AB type.[1] In 1907, Dr. Reuben Ottenberg performed the first blood transfusion using blood typing and cross-matching and discovered the universality of the O blood type.[2]

These discoveries were compelling to Dr. Fantus, but none so much as that of Russian scientist S.S. Yudin, who, after determining the length of time it takes for blood to coagulate, was able to successfully preserve and use cadaver blood for transfusion. Dr. Fantus knew that cadavers could not provide a steady-enough supply of blood to the people of Chicago; he wanted to try it with living donors, but he needed a way to convince people to donate enough blood to create a standing stockpile.

So on March 15, 1937, Dr. Fantus created the world’s first “blood bank” at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Blood preservation was nothing new at the time; blood had been shipped to the front lines in World War I and the Mayo Clinic started storing blood for up to fourteen days in 1935.

But it was Fantus’ “bank” idea of blood collection that was new. And he chose the term “blood bank” on purpose. In the July 10, 1937 edition of his weekly column in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), he explained the reason to his peers. “Just as one cannot draw money from a bank unless one has deposited some, so the blood preservation department cannot supply blood unless as much comes in as goes out. The idea of a ‘bank’ is not a mere metaphor.”[3]

In the beginning, Cook County Hospital kept a “Blood Bank Account” ledger that kept track of people’s “deposits” into their accounts when they donated blood and their “withdrawals” when they received some and hospital staff could collect $10 from a patient to pay a donor.[4]

Blood Bank

Ledger of accounts at the Cook County Hospital Blood Bank. The purpose of the ledger was to keep track of the blood supply for patients in need and the responsibility of physicians to recruit donations to replace their withdrawals. One unit on this record was unsuitable with a positive Kahn syphilis serology test, so Dr. CJ’s balance was reduced by 500 mL.

The impending Second World War would underscore the importance of blood banks, and donating blood became a sign of patriotism for Americans, who donated 13.3 million pints of blood by the end of the war.[5]

Since those early days, blood donation has come a long way. It’s safer, smarter, and it’s saved countless lives. Those advances can be credited to the formation of the American Association of Blood Banks in 1947, the introduction of plasmapheresis in 1964 and of first use of apheresis machines to extract one cellular component in 1972, among many other breakthroughs. But many would say that at their core, blood banks today owe their existence to the idea of just one man: Dr. Bernard Fantus.

Fantus had many causes and passions in his life – teaching his students, encouraging his colleagues to share their discoveries for the greater good, and looking for ways that medicine could reduce the suffering of the poor. He crusaded against newspapers that ran advertisements for sham medicines and used his skills as a pharmacist to create what he called “candy medicine” to “rob childhood of one if its terrors, namely, nasty medicine.” But the most impactful thing he did for humanity by far, the thing that endures strongly to this day, 78 years after his death, is the legacy of America’s very first blood bank.

That legacy is the 6.8 million Americans who donate nearly 21 million blood components every year. That legacy the is millions of people who could not have survived cancer, chronic illness, life-threatening injuries or surgery without blood transfusions. And that legacy is the one person every two seconds who needs blood and whose doctors, thanks to Dr. Bernard Fantus’ groundbreaking idea, can get it to them in time.[6]

“Dr. Fantus’ idea revolutionized surgery and transfusion therapy. Most major surgery done today would be impossible without the existence of blood banks. Today we take them for granted, but in fact we owe their existence to the creative thinking of a pioneer of American medicine.”
President Ronald Reagan, 6/29/1987

– William Harper, Masters in Journalism student at University of Oregon

Bloodpak: Winning the “Women’s Battle” in Africa

February 27, 2017 at 12:12 pm


In Uganda giving birth is locally called “Orutaro rwabakyara” translated “the women’s battle” and is considered equivalent to a death sentence, largely arising from blood hemorrhage.

Bleeding is the #1 cause of maternal mortality worldwide and takes the lives of 659,000 women in developing nations each year.

The research team at Bloodworks has found a way to help. We invented Bloodpak, an emergency blood transfusion platform to provide transfusion therapy anytime, anywhere. Bloodpak is a self-contained, just-in-time method of blood delivery that provides all of the supplies, point-of-care blood tests to ensure safe transfusion, and clinical decision support to guide the process on a smartphone. This medical innovation fits in a backpack and simplifies delivery by eliminating the cold chain and storage time-dependencies. It leverages innovation in blood testing and mobile technology to make blood transfusions in the field using local real-time donors possible.

Now our challenge is, how can we increase blood transfusion utilization and enable health systems to adopt Bloodpak as a solution?

We’ve been fast at work, and Bloodpak is now a finalist in the Kenya County Innovation Challenge Fund.

A part of a five-year programme funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), the Kenya County Innovation Challenge Fund supports the Government of Kenya’s efforts to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality in partnership with UNICEF, Marie Stopes International / Options Consultancy Services Limited (Options), the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), and others.

As a finalist, we are in Nairobi and able to collaborate with local partners so that we can mobilize Bloodpak into communities and provide life-saving treatment to patients in Kenya.

To learn more about Bloodwork Northwest’s Bloodpak research innovation visit Bloodpak.org

Linda Barnes Bloodpak

Follow us on Twitter to receive real time updates from our Chief Operating Officer Linda Barnes at the Kenya County Innovation Challenge Fund.

Switch to our mobile site