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

Dr. Eloise Giblett paved the way at Bloodworks Northwest

March 15, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Dr. Eloise GiblettFormer Bloodworks Northwest director Dr. Eloise Giblett made groundbreaking discoveries in immunology, paved the way for leukemia treatment, and raised standards of safety and equity in blood donation—at a time when women were few and far between in her field.

Dr. Eloise Giblett was a legend in hematology. Her research made blood transfusions safer, more effective, and more equitable—and led to the discovery of treatments still used today.

Before she became the first female executive director of Bloodworks Northwest, then Puget Sound Blood Center, Eloise had a long career both at the blood bank and in research at the University of Washington. But first, as a young girl in Tacoma, Washington, she studied the violin, a passion she’d maintain throughout her life.

She began her lifelong love of science in college. Initially majoring in English at Mills College, she changed majors to chemistry and eventually transferred to study Bacteriology, now known as Microbiology, at the University of Washington.

It’s around this time she gained her nickname, Elo, which would affectionately follow her for the rest of her life—and mark her work permanently. The ELO antigen, a red blood cell antigen, is named for her.

While still in her early twenties, Elo made her first major discovery: While working in the clinical laboratory of the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, she found that it was possible to diagnose meningococcemia on a stained blood smear.

Upon receiving her Masters in Microbiology from UW in 1951, Elo was one of just five women in her 52-person graduating class. Her career at Bloodworks started soon after.

Elo was hired in 1954 at what was then the King County Central Blood Bank, and went to London to train in serology and blood typing in the Medical Research Council’s Blood Transfusion Unit.

Even as her career at blood bank picked up, Elo remained a skilled medical researcher. Between 1955 and 1967, Elo advanced in rank at the UW Medical School from Clinical Associate to Clinical Professor of Medicine, and In 1967 she was named a Research Professor of Medicine at UW, a position she held for two decades, concurrent with her blood bank work.

During this time, Elo made incredible scientific breakthroughs that would make blood transfusions safer and more reliable, and dramatically improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

Elo, paving the way for many scientific breakthroughs to follow, discovered the first recognized immunodeficiency disease: ADA deficiency. Elo also figured out the root cause of another condition, purine nucleoside phosphorylase deficiency.

Her research on transplantation immunity showed bone marrow transplantation could be used to to treat leukemia, saving many lives.

Her focus on the genetic markers found on red blood cells, other blood cells, and in plasma led to her identification of several blood group antigens, as well as her book, Genetic Markers in Human Blood, met with universal praise.

Her work with genetic markers had civil rights implications as well: Dr. Giblett provided scientific evidence to refute the (then common) practice of segregating collected units of blood on the basis of the race of the donor.

A woman writes in a large book, with a man in glasses and a bow tie standing to her right.

Elo is admitted into the National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Giblett closed her lab to serve as Acting Director and then as Executive Director of the Blood Bank in 1980, the same year she was elected into the National Academy of Sciences. At the time, the Academy’s 2,000 members only included a few women.

This era proved to be one of the most challenging times for blood centers as the AIDS epidemic gripped the world in panic. Dr. Giblett defined policy on how to screen donors before HIV. was identified or research showed it could be spread by blood transfusion; the precedent she set ensured that the blood supply is safe today.

“Dr. Giblett was an incredible human being, a stellar scientist, and a visionary leader who artfully guided [Bloodworks Northwest] through one of its most trying periods,” wrote Bloodworks Northwest Research Institute’s Dr. José López for the American Society of Hematology.

Elo retired in 1987, keeping busy with medical matters and her first love, the violin, until her death in 2009 at 88.

Elo Giblett’s legacy lives on. Members of The Elo Giblett Society support the work of emerging scientists at Bloodworks Northwest enabling them to make important discoveries that may save lives all around the world. To learn more about this giving club, contact (206) 568-3614.

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