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Tiffany McDermott, Volunteer & Cord Blood Evangelist: “Plenty of 10 out of 10 Matches if We All Donate” (S3 E25)

Blood has always been a part of Tiffany McDermott’s life. The recently-retired OB/GYN first grew up in a family of blood donors, then, throughout her career, witnessed firsthand the impact a unit of blood can have on a new mother or her baby if there are complications in childbirth. Now, retired and in her work as a Bloodworks Northwest volunteer, she travels to area hospitals to share the importance of cord blood collection and even help train staff. Listen in to hear where her passion comes from, what her hopes are for the Bloodworks cord blood collection program, and why, for so long, she’s wanted to be a Bloodworks volunteer. Listen to the episode here and don’t forget to make an appointment to donate! Episode transcript below:

Tiffany: Okay, here…

Bill: Oh, wait a minute. Hold that thought. There we go.

Tiffany: There you go. Let’s…

Bill: Yeah. Hi. Nice to meet you.

Tiffany: Hi. Nice to meet you.

Bill: Yeah. Well, thanks for taking the time for this. Yeah, Naomi really, you know, had great things to say about what you were, you know, and certainly appreciate your involvement with Bloodworks for all this time, and yeah. Yeah, certainly appreciate you taking the time in addition to everything else that you do for us. Yeah. So I just wanted to start out asking, so you are a newly retired OB/GYN, that’s true? Yeah.

Tiffany: So I retired, and it was three years in January. So I’m 57 years old and I guess I was 54 when I retired. And I am really fortunate because when I retired, I mean I traveled, I had like a little plan. I went to India.

Bill: Oh, wow.

Tiffany: Traveled for a bit. And I was sort of just that first year sleeping and getting my act together and getting back to life and then the pandemic hit. And the beginning part of the pandemic well, the very beginning part, obviously nobody did anything, but then I got to vaccinate a bunch of people. So I am really quite grateful that the capstone to my medical career was vaccinating people because people aren’t always happy going to the doctor, but everybody was happy getting their vaccination, right?

Bill: Yeah.

Tiffany: So it was this like amazing experience to be providing healthcare and everybody being somewhat like joyous, you know? And so then after the vaccinations sort of weaned, I have wanted to volunteer with Bloodworks, and I was a regular blood donor and my husband is also a big-time blood donor and actually, my whole family is a blood donor. And I’ll just keep talking and whenever you wanna…

Bill: Yeah, no it, please. Yeah.

Tiffany: So my whole family are blood donors. My dad is AB negative, and because of his rare blood type, when he was in the service he was flagged for being a rare blood type in the service, and that sort of started that tradition. My mom is an RN. So the story of blood and the gift of life were well known to me even before I went into medicine. And then I am also AB negative as I think I chatted with you.

Bill: Yeah. Wow.

Tiffany: So it’s a pretty rare blood type. And the funny thing about my blood type is as people who work at Bloodworks may be aware, but people in the real world might not be aware is that my blood type is the funny kind of blood that like only people who have my blood type, get a blood transfusion with my blood type. So my blood type is really rare and I really can’t give it to very many people at all. So in the sense of like donating my whole blood, isn’t all that useful…

Bill: Yeah. I’m sure. Yeah.

Tiffany: …in the world and, you know, folks are always like, “Oh no, we need every of blood.” And for sure in that respect, I do help keep blood banks at capacity of all the blood types by donating blood.

Bill: Yeah. So do you get like the special calls from Bloodwork saying, “We have a patient right now,” asking you to come in or just kind of come in regularly or how do you move forward?

Tiffany: No, I just come in regularly. Like my kind of blood is so rare that there aren’t that many people who get that special phone call. Like, so what’s ironically different is that I married somebody with a really good kind of blood own, so he’s O negative, and he’s negative for a bunch of childhood viruses as well.

Bill: Oh, wow.

Tiffany: So he does get those calls because he has the kind of blood that’s like, if you will, to sort of translate it for the general populace, like really simple and clean, you know, and my blood is like really complicated and difficult,

Bill: Well, balance is out then?

Tiffany: Well, right. Well, right. So he does get those kind of phone calls. So I used, so again, education, the opposite is my plasma is like the best…

Bill: Yep. I was gonna ask about that. Yep.

Tiffany: Right. Because my blood is so complicated. So if you think of it like broth and soup, right. Like the components of my soup are so complicated, but my broth is really simple. And so my broth would be really, really good to donate. So I have been a plasma donor and then I developed an antigen. And I can no longer be a plasma donor.

Bill: Oh, no.

Tiffany: So that’s a bummer because now…But that’s all a different story in the sense of like my blood’s not that useful. So my dad and I have the same kind of blood and then I became and so I have this family history of giving blood and it’s really cute. Like even my sister and my brothers and my sister’s kids. And so then I became an OB/GYN. And a leading cause of death in childbirth is hemorrhage, is blood loss. I mean, a leading cause of death in childbirth is hemorrhage, end of story. Not in other countries actually in our country. So, you know, people are like, “Oh, people don’t die on childbirth.” Like they do actually. And if we didn’t have modern healthcare probably like one in six women would die in childbirth. And the number one cause for that would be hemorrhage. But you know, we have modern healthcare and so less people hemorrhage and then we have blood products, which is truly, truly the gift of life.

And you can imagine the heartache of someone who has recently brought life, losing a life, right? And so many times throughout my career, I was witness to the gift of life both in childbirth, but to be honest, that’s was like sort of an everyday thing. That was my job. But to actually bring someone back to life with a blood transfusion is quite miraculous. And that’s actually where you feel like you are actually doing your job as a physician.

Bill: So, you’re saying like, you would be there for the birth of a child and then the mother would then have a hemorrhage, but you would be in the room whilst she got the transfusion to come back? Oh, my goodness.

Tiffany: Yeah. Right.

Bill: That’s incredible.

Tiffany: Yeah. And like to say, Bill, like, I mean to childbirth is natural, right. You know, there’s billions of people on the planet because it works, right. But this is where you’re like really interceding and really making a difference. So there’s that which always had me very motivated to be involved with Bloodworks. And then there’s, what’s in the cord blood. So you know that we grow a baby from a placenta, and there are cells in your placenta. I mean, the cells that begin to grow a human, they’re called tidy potential or all potential cells, right. Because I mean, when you start you’re one cell organism, right?

Bill: Yep. Yeah, yeah.

Tiffany: And that one cell can become everything, right?

Bill: Stem cells, right.

Tiffany: Excuse me.

Bill: Stem cells.

Tiffany: Yes. And then that one cell gives rise to a variety of other cells, but also these cells that are stem cells. And so there are stem cells in cord blood. And what’s for the most part we could be giving people like I said, when you give someone a blood transfusion at the time of a postpartum hemorrhage, you’re giving them the gift of life, right?

Bill: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany: But with a stem cell transplant, when you give someone a stem cell transplant, you’re giving someone on like a second chance. They’ve had this horrible exposure to a bloodborne illness and you’re giving them a redo. You’re giving them a reboot. And I’m passionate because, for the most part, this is a product that we are not preserving. We’re not getting the best, and we are not harvesting enough, but harvest isn’t a good word. Don’t use that. People are very unhappy with that word appropriately, but we’re not taking full advantage of this gift of this miraculous thing that is created. We’re not getting full benefit from stem cells. And then in the next place is that people of color and BIPOC populations can really benefit from stem cells because their match on bone marrow is so low because most bone marrow donors are not people of color.

And so the probability of someone…but all of these people of color are having children and all of these BIPOC people. And as we mix, especially here in Seattle, like everybody mixes, like it’s the greatest thing that we can get this stem cell and we don’t have to be as specific and we can get the stem cell from these people of color. So, being a former OB/GYN, I have unique entree into the world of that hospital, of that delivery room, of those people, and I can talk to my colleagues one on one. Now, of course, what’s been super frustrating, Bill, is the pandemic, right?

Bill: Yeah, of course.

Tiffany: And I think actually if I could put a plugin for Volunteer Week if you can honor the stress of…And you’ll wordsmith this because I am not a poet. But the stress of being a volunteer in a pandemic or being a person/…because the last thing we wanna do is. Especially like Bloodworks is get someone’s ill, right. Or overstress somebody. And the medical care provider environment is stressed to the max and just burnt out to the max. And so you know, there’s a component of being a volunteer that it’s a two way street. Like I am volunteering, but you are actually giving me something. And the medical community is maxed out, and to ask for something from the medical community is to me, unconscionable and defeat purpose, right? I mean, my purpose is like, my purpose is the gift of life.

And so when someone is like overtaxed to be like, yeah, “Hey, can you harvest this gift of life please?” And they’re, [inaudible 00:13:37] right? So walking that…So what I would ask of you, or what I would task you with is honoring volunteers’ capacities to endure this pandemic and maintain their commitment to being a volunteer and not being a burden in that line of like…Right. So that’s kind of like my story and basically what I do for Bloodworks is I’m just like a walking ad campaign for cord blood donation. And you too as well are like a walking ad campaign for bone marrow. So, yeah.

Bill: Yeah. Everything you just said, I mean, yeah, I’m with you 100%. You know, like, I don’t know if I mentioned, but I had leukemia in 2010 and I had a stem cell transplant, unrelated. 10 out of 10 perfect match from Oklahoma city, which is great. But then I kind of started to learn more. And then I was in grad school, down in Oregon, and I met a woman who had a son who was four years old with severe plastic anemia. And he is mixed race. And I never met the kid. Like his mom was living down in Eugene and he was up at Becker in Portland. And she had all these like parties and things and social media stuff to find someone to come, you know, join the map. So we bring someone for him, it didn’t work out and he died. And it’s like when that happened I said, I want to do everything that I possibly can to fix this. And cord blood’s one of the answers. Have you ever crossed paths with a doctor named Colleen Delaney?

Tiffany: I don’t think I have.

Bill: I met her, she was my attending. I mean, I was secured for children’s so, but anyway, so like UDub system. She started a, what do you call like an off-the-shelf cord blood product company called Nohla Therapeutics. And then that was, I think, bought out by a different company. I think that’s called Deverra Therapeutics, it’s all based in Seattle. But she, yeah, I mean, having grown up or like having worked in the pediatric oncology, like starting to see just like you were saying, like all these kids who have a total chance to survive, but then not have a suitable match for them was just really hard. So I think she’s getting a fair amount of success. I haven’t talked to her for a couple of years, but she was doing this in trying to like pool different cords and try and make them like, and then stimulate the production.

But yeah, just like create an off-the-shelf, like literally, like, you know, doctor sends in the order to the company and they just ship it out, like it’s a UPS truck or something. So it’s pretty neat stuff. And I mean, thank you for all that, that story. I mean, your dedication is incredible. And you know, I think there’s so much room for growth and it really takes someone who has experience in this kind of thing to really go to these places and say, “Hey, I know you’re pushed to the limit and you can’t handle this, but you’ve gotta realize like this one thing.” And it’s just, you know, it’s a little bit more, it’s more work, it’s more stress, it’s more everything, but this could be the difference between someone living and dying.

Tiffany: Right. And for sure that absolutely. I mean, your story is like, it’s hard not to be, to feel for that kid. And to realize that you know, we’re throwing away his life, because we have the capacity to just collect. And so, you know, there’s the other thing is like, if we all do this, you know, people are like, “Well, I wanna privately bank.” And perhaps it’s because I’m the product of like public school, you know, I went to public school and I went to public university for my medical school, but if we all hold hands and donate our cord blood, then there’ll be something there for you when your time comes. And it’s not a selfless act. It can be a selfish act if we’re all doing it, then there will be plenty of 10 out 10 matches. Like if we all just do it. And yeah, I’m 100% with you. Like I think, especially Bloodworks Northwest, you know, we’re the only for blood bank in the Pacific Northwest. And like, my dream would be like that we get more, right. There’s no reason like we gotta like have one at OHSU and have one in Alaska and have one in [inaudible 00:18:34].

Bill: Yeah. I’m so I was so happy to hear that you’re working with the Bloodworks Bio people. I mean, I had no idea that we had such, you know, an advocate, like to your level, Tiffany. I mean, this is amazing to see this, like, you know, let’s just go to these hospitals and be like, “Hey, look, here’s the deal. Like, this is a thing, and it’s easy. We know how it works, and this is all you have to do.” And just like, this is, you know, like…Yeah. It just doesn’t make sense to not have that, or at least to not try to get it as in many hospitals we can because I think it’s only like Evergreen, and well, you would know better than I do. It’s only a few hospitals right, in the Northwest. That’s not right.

Tiffany: Yeah. Right. Well, you know, there’s so much like, like I said, for us with the pandemic, there’s that?

Bill: Sure. Yeah.

Tiffany: Then there was fear. Right. And like childbirth and fear appropriately walk hand in hand, because like, when I said earlier in this conversation, like one in six women, usually die in childbirth. So that historical fear appropriate, right. And then the fear of the medical community for women is also appropriate had we know how to act. So there’s a lot of like gentle walking, but the more we tell stories like yours and like this child, the more we tell these stories of like, it was painless for me to donate my cord blood and now there’s a five-year-old who’s doesn’t have aplastic anemia. Like so right versus like, I mean, you know, I’m always in awe of people who are bone marrow donors, right, because I’m like, “Oh my God, I don’t know. I might have to go to sleep to be a bone marrow donor.” Like that seems really kind of a lot. And you know, like the general population, even giving blood, the general population has a hard time giving blood appropriately, that stuff is supposed to stay in your body. You’re like, listen…

Bill: Yeah, you try really hard to not have it go flying out all over the place.

Tiffany: Right, right, right. Right. Like evolutionarily my body is telling me you don’t give this away, right.

Bill: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, for sure. Well, so about bone marrow donation, it’s actually my donor actually the Fred Hutch sort of discovered this is they do 80% of stem cell donations through peripheral blood. And so that’s how my donor did it. And it’s just was like five days going into the clinic for an injection of filgrastim every day, like stimulates the stems production, well, you know that. And then the fifth day she went in and I think she donated for four hours, then they freeze this thing. Her dad brought her a sandwich. They hung out. She read a book, watched a movie, talked with the nurses, and then she drove herself home and stopped at Target, ran into her best friend. [crosstalk 00:21:46]. She said she felt funky for a couple days after your words, but that was it.

Like, it’s pretty easy thing, but still, I mean, you’re right. It’s hard to get people to think about, you know, why should do this thing? Because you know, like you were saying, like, maybe I’m gonna need it someday too. And that’s why she signed up. So it’s a pretty incredible thing. That’s easy to, and like, you know, cord blood donation, it’s literally nothing. Like you don’t have to do anything. I mean, the nurses do and that’s you know it’s a lot, but for the donor themselves and like, I have this dream and I don’t know, you know, if we could do it with Bloodworks or somebody? I’ve done some work with PDMS too for some degree. And so it’s like, what if you had like a cord blood donation and then time goes by and everybody turns out okay and healthy everything. And then you had the mom and then her kid who like where the cord blood came from and then the person who got the cord blood cells and they met on a stage and they cried and the whole thing, like that’s, you know, that’s what poetry is.

Tiffany: Yeah. Yeah. I, you know, there’s anonymity, but yeah, for sure. I mean…

Bill: Yeah, it’s anonymous for a year or at least it was with stem was just right. Maybe it’s different with cord blood, but for a year. And then they ask you if you wanna talk to your donor and then they ask the donor same thing, and then you can like communicate through the blood to center or through Be The Match. And then you eventually you know, you can be like, “Oh, this is my phone number. This is my email address.” And you can start talking directly, so.

Tiffany: So well, yeah, that would be amazing because also like the…I mean they do pre-pandemic. And a cord blood unit got used. The mom is okay. So pre-pandemic, when a cord blood unit got used did get posted on labor and delivery.

Bill: Oh, wow.

Tiffany: Like reinforced to the nurses. Like this is a really good thing, core blood, you know, getting used and what have you. And the mom is aware because when a match happens, what they’ll do is they’ll contact back to the mom.

Bill: Oh, wow.

Tiffany: “Hey, has anything changed in the health history of your child because they’ve become a match for yada yada yada.” Because they’re like, oh, they develop leukemia, like whatever. Right. So they’ll, “Well, maybe we won’t have our blood match. But they don’t. I don’t know about…That’s beyond me about…But yeah, that would be a dream that would be, and it would be, are you kidding? It would be great to have like someone who received their stem cell transplant…Their cord blood transplant. Sorry. And to be like, “I am a cord blood transplant.” Because we have them talk to prenatal classes is…

Bill: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Yeah, it’s so energizing to talk to you. I have all these ideas like just have like a roadshow to like Pacific Northwest hospitals and just go around and with donuts and coffee and be like, let’s just do this because, you know, the doctor that I mentioned, Colleen Delaney, she says it’s the worlds most…Because she says it kind of like a joke like it’s our most valuable trash because it’s trash. It’s medical waste.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Bill: And it’s like, but it’s medical waste that if you just look at a different way and do a little bit of effort and like it’s everything.

Tiffany: Yeah. It’s like, you know, they say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is like one man’s trash is another man’s lifesaver.

Bill: Yeah, exactly.

Tiffany: Right. Absolutely, one woman’s trash.

Bill: Yeah. There you go. You know, you’re talking about the one in six. Is it really one in six people in the United States?

Tiffany: No, that’s in the world.

Bill: Oh, in the world. Okay.

Tiffany: Yeah. United States it’s probably like one in a thousand.

Bill: Still one and six globally. So I actually got leukemia when I was in Senegal in West Africa. And we were there actually studying their healthcare system because pretty much if a town was less than 5,000 people like out in the desert somewhere, they wouldn’t get any money from federal government for health and infrastructure, for no roads, no health stuff, nothing. So we were studying, it was an anthropology project. My professor got a grant from the National Science Foundation to go, because what was happening is these small villages and towns were sending their oldest sons to Paris to sell touristy crickets. And they live in these horrible conditions and send money back to fund primarily like health clinics and stuff, doctors and that sort of thing. And so I spent two weeks in this little town on the very southern edge of this hard desert. Just like in the middle of nowhere.

And they, these young men in Paris had sent enough money back because what would happen was like a, you know, woman in childbirth, if there was a complication or a problem, oftentimes the woman or the child, or both would die during the rainy season because they couldn’t get to the city, the bigger city where there’s a hospital. So they would just…All this kept happening and happening and happening. And they finally… We called this project Done Waiting because they sent these guys to Paris and they sent money back. They built a clinic, they built a midwifery clinic. They paid for two nurses. They paid the salaries of two nurses, a midwife and a doctor. And it was fully functional with equipment and medications and everything and they just did it and you know, they stopped having problems in childbirth.

Tiffany: Yeah. Pretty helpful, right?

Bill: It was pretty cool.

Tiffany: Yeah, it’s chilling. Like, and there’s like a drug, you know, it’s called misoprostol. So it’s a tablet. I mean it’s a shelf-stable tablet that can significantly arrest postpartum hemorrhage.

Bill: Oh, wow.

Tiffany: It’s also a tablet that’s used as an abort efficient.

Bill: As a what?

Tiffany: As an abort efficient.

Bill: What does that mean?

Tiffany: Oh, to make you have an abortion.

Bill: Oh, okay. Oh wow.

Tiffany: So because this tablet which can arrest postpartum hemorrhage can also be associated with an abortion.

Bill: Mm-hmm. Oh-oh.

Tiffany: Right.

Bill: I don’t like where this is going.

Tiffany: Right. So there’s places where this shelf-stable tablet, Right. It could get to your village of 500 people, right? You know, it could sit there for years. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So there’s a lot of healthcare stuff that is inequitable and there’s much that can be prevented in the lives of women and children regarding hemorrhage. For sure. And yeah, that’s amazing. So, you got taken out of Senegal though because you got sick?

Bill: Yeah. So we were gonna be there a month and I actually ended up leaving on the same day that we were planning to leave, but I had to leave on a medevac litter jet that they sent from Germany just for me. It was exciting. Yeah, it was really bad. You know, leukemia came on just really, but it was, you know, it was 120 degrees and I’m thinking, you know, well I have this huge bruise on my arm because it’s 120 degrees and I can’t climb this flight of stairs because it’s so hot, and all this other stuff. And my professor, because I was by myself in this little town with another Senegalese research partner. And then she came to pick us up and she saw me and she’s like, “Is something wrong with you?”

And so I went, saw two doctors there and they both said, “You just need to rest.” The third one did a blood test and you know, I was like taking a nap in this apartment we were staying at in Dakar and she and my professor came running in she’s like they already called the ambulance. Like you need to go to the hospital right now. And I was there I think for four days. And then…But during that was an exciting event. Some guy comes in, he’s like in a business suit with like, you know, black, you know, sport jacket and stuff. And you know the Senegalese, people are really, really tall. This like tall, distinguished-looking guy comes in, they look like he’s from the embassy or something thing. And the whole time he is in this room like that, I was staying and he didn’t talk to me. He didn’t say anything, but there was a nurse walking behind him and she had something in her hand. I couldn’t see what it was. But he sat on this little stool next to my bed and he wiped my chest down right here with like some aseptic, some blue cleaning liquid, you see where this is going, I hope. And he turns to the nurse and grabs a thing that’s in her hand and it turns out it’s a really big needle and he jams the giant needle into my chest. And yeah, it was just, it was a bone marrow biopsy turns out.

Tiffany: Oh.

Bill: Which we stopped doing them in the sternum because you can hit the aorta really easily.

Tiffany: Yeah. It was not a good thing.

Bill: So yeah, that was my first introduction to like actual healthcare. But Senegal does have like the most well-run blood system in west Africa. So that was good because I kept gettting…I mean it was almost back to back like blood and platelet transfusions and stuff, it was a ton, it was a lot going on. But the weird thing was that the Senegalese system hasn’t changed since they became independent in 1950. So the colonial’s medical system like the French colonial was that if they weren’t completely certain of your diagnosis, they wouldn’t tell you what they suspected. So obviously, they thought it was leukemia because of the bone marrow biopsy, but they didn’t tell me. And then I was medevaced to Germany on this suite…I’m a private pilot. So when my professor said, “They’re gonna, medevac you.” I asked her if it was gonna be a litter jet, and that she thought that was funny. But…

Tiffany: Okay. But let’s put a pin in that. So when you’re Medevaced on a litter jet, are there other seats on there? Is there like a bed?

Bill: No, it’s, it’s an ambulance. It’s like a bed and then there were two seats. There was an EMT and I think he was a nurse and then the two pilots. Yeah, it’s not all like fancy like business.

Tiffany: Right, right,

Bill: It’s a flying ambulance,

Tiffany: A flying ambulance.

Bill: Yeah. yeah. So my mom was able to meet me in Nuremberg and I was there for an hour and the doctor comes in and says, “What’d they tell you in Senegal?” I said nothing. And he kind of took a deep breath and he says, “You have leukemia.” And you know, it’s just like, I didn’t…So here’s a funny story. We’re like in this huge hospital. It’s like its own city. And they’re like wheeling me around somewhere on some kind of bed. And we pass into the sign that says oncology and I am a little bit ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t know up until that moment what the word oncology meant.

Tiffany: Sure. Yeah, sure.

Bill: I kid you not. Because I had never had any reason to think about it. I thought that it was the study of being on call. That’s how far away from like medicine I was. And that sounds really silly, but you know, I had no reason to know what it was and then I found out what it was. Yeah.

Tiffany: Yeah. No, Bill there’s many people who when I say I’m an obstetrician-gynecologist, they’re like, “What is that?” And I’m like, so you don’t have a wife or you’ve never have sex?

Bill: You’ve never met a woman before?

Tiffany: Like you’re…yeah. And they’re like, “Oh, you’re a baby doctor.” And I’m like, “Kind of, but actually no.” Yeah, no, I don’t…I mean, I thought you were gonna say, when you wheeled past oncology, you were like. “Oh-oh.” You know, like, “Oh this is not, you know, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Type of thing.

Bill: Yeah. My aunts actually in the ’70s, she worked for Bloodworks and then she married a Canadian so she did Canadian Blood Service. And so they were taught my mom’s sister and they were talking before my mom came over and my aunt was saying because they knew about my symptom and the bruise and stuff. And my aunt was like, “Eileen, like this sounds like leukemia.” And was like, “No, no, no, of course not. It’s just hot. He got some tropical disease.” I thought it was malaria. We all did. And frankly, malaria would’ve been nice, but I’m one of those few people who gets to say that he wished he would’ve had malaria, which is not against the people had malaria, but you know, something simple, but no it’s nuts. I mean, I got, I think the final tally was 267 blood and platelet units plasma, the whole thing because I had…Leukemia actually went away pretty quickly. Like it sort of, you know, it went into remission quickly, and then the transplant took really well. But I got a lot of infections. My infectious disease history is just shocking and then a bunch of surgeries, and I think 34 knee replacements, chest wall resections, all this kind of stuff.

Tiffany: Oh, man.

Bill: Yeah, 267. And so that’s why it’s so cool to work for Bloodworks because I can’t repay that ever in a lifetime, but you know, help get other people to come in and then I meet people like you who are just so passionate about cord blood.

Tiffany: Yeah. I mean, it’s like fascinating that I married this person. So I met my husband in undergrad and you know, his goal is to get on the Tree of Life at Bloodwork. He’s like, he’s like…I don’t know. I think he’s given like it’s super cuckoo because they qualify how much…So he is given like 8 pints and I’m like, “Well, what does that mean? Because we don’t give people a pint of blood.” But anyhow, yeah his goal…It’s ironic that I married somebody who has also a passion and his passion is…But maybe it’s not ironic. Maybe that’s part of why we’re attracted to each other or we understand these values. But it is just to sort of like be versus you, Bill. You’re like, “I can never repay that.” I mean, you know, yeah, knock wood. My husband is like, you know, six, five healthy as a horse, has never spent the night in the hospital. He’s never spent the night in the hospital. And he’s just like really, really committed to giving blood. And I think partly it’s like he’s like, “This is slam dunk. I think, good blood and be a good person and I’m not even trying hard.” You know, like he’s a toad or something, but yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah, so that’s my background. And then that’s my ask is that just you know, in Volunteer Week, I think it’s all just been real. Like I volunteer somewhere else and I volunteer a bunch of other places, but I volunteer at Bailey Boche House and… So Bailey Boche house was originally…It’s on Madison. Do you live in Seattle, Bill?

Bill: I did. I live in Everett now, but yeah.

Tiffany: Okay. So it’s on Madison on your way out to the Arboretum. And it was originally a hospice, like 80 hospice beds for people with HIV/AIDS.

Bill: Oh, wow.

Tiffany: And as folks don’t die from that diagnosis, it’s morphed. And so it still has its hospice beds. And then with the pandemic, it became more of a, like the day room, which used to be a day room, became a 24-hour shelter. And so my point being is that, like, I was still volunteering there, but then as the pandemic happened, it became untenable. And now that this pandemic is in a different phase which I would like to say is ending or what have you, it’s not really…I’m not attracted to going back. And so, you know, I think the amazing thing about Bloodworks is just like the core principle, right? Of what we’re doing here and how even though there’s a pandemic, our need in our mission is unchangeable, right? And so just you know, praising those volunteers a little bit…

Bill: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Tiffany: Right. Because it’s been a rough three years for everybody.

Bill: Yeah. It’s just been crazy.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Bill: I remember the first when it all began March of 2020, my boss, Karen Kirby’s worked here for 20 years, and I went up…Like I worked at the office like on this level downstairs. So as I was leaving, I walked by, stopped by office and she just had this look on her face. And because I knew like the pandemic, you know, was coming, that COVID was here and there was the Life Care Center and all that stuff. And I said like, “What’s going on? Like do you think this is gonna impact things?” And she said, “We’re gonna run out of blood in five days.”

Tiffany: Yeah.

Bill: And I said, “Has that ever happened in your 20-year career?” And she said, “No, like, we didn’t know what we were gonna do. We had no idea.” And you know, that was a really incredible summer. Like people just showed up like more than we could even handle. And you know, it helped that they weren’t doing elective surgeries, but the numbers we saw were just unreal, and that’s kind of sadly, I guess, tapered off then, like that sort of passion is sort of faded a bit. But I think it’s people like you that are so passionate about it and getting voices like yours out there be like, it’s simple. And it makes all the difference. Like there are people walking around today because people took an hour and they got a cookie afterward to just like do something really simple. Like, you know, it’s just it’s is so easy. And yeah, like you were saying, like it’s not natural to have someone willingly, let someone stab a thing into you. That’s not what we do, but…

Tiffany: But we’re evolved. We’re evolved beings and we can use our prefrontal cortex and we can use our brain to say like, this will serve me. And this is something I can do versus like the most of the pandemic where we felt so like, “What can I do?” Like, again, just we’re over talking. I don’t wanna, but because I had retired, people were like, “Oh, are you gonna go back to work now? Because you know, they need you so desperately.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m useless. Like, what am I gonna do?” Like, I mean, I get it. You’re like, “No, you’re not useless.” And I’m like, “Yes, I am. I’m an obstetrician-gynecologist.” Like, if you’re pregnant, I can help you. But regarding like a pandemic, like I can’t run a vent in an ICU for a nurse. That’s what was needed, right? And I was like, “No, all I’m gonna do is like, get in the way and cause more anxiety for other people.” And so it sort of like this being Bloodworks, donating blood, this is actually something we can do, like giving stem cells. This is actually something we can do. This is an action we can take like, yeah, “What do I do about the war in Ukraine?” Give blood.

Bill: Yeah. Yeah.

Tiffany: Right. Like when you need to feel like you need to be, how do I solve my anxieties? Donate blood products. That’s how you can work on your anxiety because then you are actually doing something for somebody and hopefully it’s a butterfly effect, right. Hopefully, if we give blood in Seattle, then that keeps that person alive who can, you know, talk to somebody who makes peace talks in Ukraine.

Bill: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s all connected.

Tiffany: Hopefully.

Bill: You know, it was a stupid, it was like a really, I mean frankly like dumb TV show, about a bunch of high school students that my stem cell donors saw that when she was 21 or when she was no when she was 17. And then like in the episode, like, one of the characters had leukemia and all of his friends were looking for a donor, because that’s how it works in real life. And she’s sitting there 17 years old and she’s like, “God if one of my two younger brothers gets sick and I couldn’t be a match for them, I wanna do what I can to make sure that there’s some other older sister out there like have their younger brother be okay.” So that, like, you know, set up the universe so that like someone else would be there for my brother if it ever happened. And she signed up when she was 18, she remembered too. And when 26 years later I got leukemia and my older sister was that older sister she thought of, it’s just like little tiny things. Where did she go? Yeah. And it’s like, you know, you never know like one little thing that happens…

Tiffany: Aww. Very weird.

Bill: Yeah. She has the most widely read vegetarian food blog on the internet and a best-selling cookbook.

Tiffany: Awesome.

Bill: She’s the best. She’s so…

Tiffany: That’s some really good stuff.

Bill: Yeah. She’s awesome.

Tiffany: That’s awesome. Lucky for you.

Bill: Yes. I got to meet her in 2014 and [inaudible 00:43:55].

Tiffany: That’s awesome. Did you have questions or other things that I should?

Bill: Well, I had questions, but you told me that I got them all. That was awesome. Yeah. I guess, well, it’s one other thing. If you could send me just some photos that, like, you just whatever kind of.

Tiffany: I’ll send you my headshot.

Bill: Okay. That’s cool.

Tiffany: Is that good?

Bill: Yeah, that’ll work. And then, yeah, I guess if you have anything else to add or things I think, I mean I’ve got a good idea on stuff I think.

Tiffany: Yeah. No, I mean, I really, really appreciate talking to you. I really appreciate hearing your story. And even though you’re doing this, it’s helping me. Yeah?

Bill: Yeah, yeah.

Tiffany: Hearing those kinds of stories are even though you said like you’re so passionate, you know, that’s learning that stuff is what keeps my passion going, right?

Bill: Yeah. Well, likewise, I mean, I’m just totally invigorated. Like, you know, I’m in the marketing department, but like I know who to talk to about, you know, engaging other hospitals. Like why shouldn’t we just ask and sit down and have the conversation? To me, there’s no excuse, you know, and like, just get the right people in the room and see what we can do.

Tiffany: Right, right. Create…

Bill: I mean, this could change somebody’s life.

Tiffany: Right. Definitely. Definitely. Okay, I’ll send you the headshot. And then as I said, I’ll be outta town, but I’m happy to follow up if need me.

Bill: Yeah. So I think we’re definitely gonna feature you for Volunteer Week. You’ll be the star of the show.

Tiffany: Oh, my God.

Bill: You should be the star of all the shows because you’re awesome.

Tiffany: You are the star of my show, Bill.

Bill: I know you should be. Yeah. And so, but certainly more than that, I think, you know, I’m gonna…I was talking with my boss about like you should be our like cord blood evangelists, frankly. Like that’s…

Tiffany: That’s what I’m hoping.

Bill: You’re the one. So yeah, I think I’ll see what else we can get you involved in, but that’s awesome. I mean, thank you so much for the time. I mean, you’re an amazing human being. It’s so cool to talk to you. Yeah.

Tiffany: Okay.

Bill: All right.

Tiffany: The headshot. Okay. Bye.

Bill: All right. See you later. Sounds good.

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Bloodworks in the Community – Bloodworks Northwest BlogBloodworks Northwest Blog

Blood connects all of us as human beings. Bloodworks’ lifesaving mission allows us to connect and celebrate with members of the communities we serve around the year, 24/7/365.

However, the summer months give us an opportunity to not only share our mission but to recognize, commemorate, and honor others as we observe certain events that bring us together.

In June, we celebrated two important events: Juneteenth and Pride.


Iesha James and Rozi Romanesco spread awareness of Bloodworks Cord Blood Program at two Juneteenth events in Seattle.

70% of patients in need of a stem cell transplant will not find a donor within their family. Those patients will need to hope that there is an unrelated match within the international stem cell registry. Because genetics are tied to family ancestry, you’re more likely to find a match within your own ethnic background. Unfortunately, Black and African American patients have a lower chance of finding an unrelated match than individuals of other races.

Cord blood dramatically increases the potential for a match compared to adult bone marrow because the cells in the umbilical cord are more adaptable. This is one reason why it’s so important to have more Black and African American cord blood donors.

Iesha shares more on why you should consider donating your baby’s cord blood.


While Bloodworks serves everyone in our community in need of a lifesaving blood transfusion, it’s an unfortunate reality that many gay and bisexual men cannot donate blood due to FDA restrictions.

Bloodworks has been an active supporter of changing the MSM deferral for over a decade.

We participated in Seattle PrideFest to thank our LGBTQIA+ donors and to educate the community on other inclusive ways to get involved through donation for research, volunteer opportunities, and current job openings.

Want to do more? Local ad agency (and Bloodworks partner) Green Rubino put together a campaign to end donation discrimination.

Bloodworks staff in their own words

We were so pleased to return to PrideFest, and join for both days this year. The energy is always inspiring. Bloodworks is proud to stand with its LGBTQIA+ employees and support the broader Seattle community. Sharing our resources on cord blood and other donation opportunities is vital to our work, and it was a fantastic weekend meeting current and potential donors.

Molly Donahue

We talked to many people about community blood donation, and reminded quite a few to donate again! We also explained to many inquisitive visitors that folks ineligible for the community blood supply may be able to donate for research. Marci and Jesse from HR stopped by to deliver handouts about open positions, so we also shared info about promising new careers at Bloodworks. Of course, I shared the wonders that cord blood donation can do for patients suffering from leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell disease.

Rozi Romanesco

I really enjoyed being at Pride Fest this year and was very touched to see all the people who had interest in helping give back in some way – whether it be donations, volunteering or applying to work with us, it felt more like it should be called ‘Love Fest’ to me for that reason. Everyone there was so happy and so accepting of one another and it’s just great to be somewhere that everyone feels they can truly be themselves and not be judged, even if it is just for two days a year, it gives me hope for the future.

On a different note, I was a bit saddened by the fact that even in this day-in-age and with all the technology that we have for testing blood, etc., the FDA still states that homosexual men cannot donate blood unless they have abstained for 3 months. To me this is a little bit archaic and I wish it would change. One man came up and said he was saddened by this because he was in a bad car accident in HS and needed many pints of blood throughout his recovery and wishes that he was able to give back in some way all these years later but cannot because he is a gay man… it hurt to hear and I hope that it changes. Other than that, it was an amazing experience and I encourage everyone to go at least once in their lives! It was awesome to be there representing BWNW as well!

Jesse McLennan

First off I want to say that that the people who joined us to represent Bloodworks truly represent our mission. They were so excited to tell everyone about the various options to help the community through blood donation and awareness. We had a lot of folks come up to tell us that they appreciate what we do, which meant so much. Many people who came up to our booth did not know that donating blood for research or creating awareness about our cord blood program can be hugely impactful in saving lives. We had a great chance to also create awareness about the initiatives to change the policies for blood donation to a more science based approach, which I think was appreciated.

Last weekend being my first time attending this event, I was thankful for the acceptance our community has for its people, and had a wonderful time despite the uncharacteristically hot weather!

Jazmin Snow

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A Father’s Day Gift Like No Other — Stanford Blood Center

felicia with father

June 22, 2022 at 8:57 am
By Ross Coyle, SBC Public Relations Officer

We hope everyone had a very happy Father’s Day! It’s one of life’s joys to be able to spend quality time with your family on special occasions. Our Marketing and Communications Specialist, Felicia Gonsalves, knows first-hand the impact blood donors have on patients’ lives. She shares her story of how her family came awfully close to losing that valuable time, and how it motivated her to pay it forward.

It was a day Felicia Gonsalves will never forget and one that changed her life forever. She had just returned to the Bay Area after a family trip to Lake Tahoe during the Fourth of July weekend in 2019.

That’s when she got a call no one wants to receive: her dad was in the emergency room. The doctors tested him for what they considered to be worst-case scenario — and it turned out to be just that. After significant strain on his heart, David Gonsalves’ aorta had dissected (torn). His diagnosis was so critical that he had to be life-flighted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Felicia quickly drove up to UC Davis to be at her father’s side.

“It’s a struggle to watch it happen to a loved one. Panic set in, not knowing what was going to happen to him,” said Felicia. “The waiting was excruciating, and you feel helpless because you’re not able to do anything for him.”

Fortunately, her father survived, but it was a harrowing experience. “Honestly, it was a miracle! The doctors told us that most patients with a similar diagnosis don’t survive.” Felicia remembers seeing some of the life-flight crew that took her dad to the hospital come by to check on him a few days later after he was out of ICU. They were so happy to see her dad because they knew from experience that most people who go through this ordeal don’t make it. In fact, his recovery is so rare, that doctors at Barton Memorial Hospital in Lake Tahoe have asked to do a case study on David’s situation.

Once her dad was back on his feet, Felicia asked herself what could she possibly do to show her gratitude to all those on his care team who helped her father bounce back and regain his health. “A simple thank-you note wasn’t enough. I could write each and every one of them, but it wouldn’t be able to express how grateful I was for their compassion and kindness,” said Felicia.

That’s when she was finally able to muster up enough courage to donate blood. Despite working at SBC, Felicia was always scared to donate blood. In addition to having a fear of needles, she also had particularly tricky veins that made it more challenging to donate. But, after the experience her family went through, she was determined to overcome her fear and make a difference. “The best thank you I could possibly give was to give the gift of life,” she said.

Felicia with her father and grandfather.

It was also a way to honor her father who was an avid blood donor. David has worked for years at a local elementary school, where he made a habit of donating at mobile blood drives. Though his medical situation has made it impossible for him to donate currently, he still spreads the word about the need for donors and shares his story every chance he gets.

David Gonsalves was given a second chance. A chance to spend quality time with family and friends. And a chance to enjoy Father’s Day with his daughter. “It’s always front of mind this time of year,” said Felicia. “I got this time with my dad that others unfortunately don’t always get to experience. So, as a blood donor, the only way I could show thanks was to try to do the same for somebody else.”

Just after the two-year anniversary of her father’s recovery, Felicia’s grandfather, Ernesto became very sick. They found out that both of his kidneys and his liver were failing. At the hospital, he had been given several transfusions, but they learned that he didn’t have much time left. Over the next four months, he continued to receive blood products before passing away in February of 2022. Felicia and her family are so grateful for the extra time they had with Ernesto. The gift of time is something Felicia and her family want to continue giving to other families.

Felicia continues to advocate for the importance of blood donation. She has encouraged friends to donate, and some have taken her up on that offer. “Donating blood takes only about an hour, but can have such a large impact on someone else’s life. There’s no better way to thank someone for giving you more time; it’s priceless!”

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Like Father, Like Daughter — Stanford Blood Center

father and daughter with coflex

June 17, 2022 at 8:57 am
By Ross Coyle, SBC Public Relations Officer

Balaji Iyer recently made his 100th milestone blood donation at our Mountain View center — a moment he had hoped to share with someone very special. Unfortunately, illness delayed his 16-year-old daughter Satvika from making her very first donation that same day. But sometimes things have a funny way of working out. Satvika finally got a chance to donate blood last week, just as we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day! Their donation was a very special gift for this father/daughter duo, and a life-saving gift for someone’s parent or child in need.

Ross Coyle, Public Relations Officer, interviewed the two about making blood donation a family affair.


Balaji Iyer

What led you to donate blood the first time?
I have been donating blood since I was 20 years old. I grew up in Mumbai, India and was part of a volunteer group that would provide blood donations for patients in a hospital blood center. I thought of blood donation as one of the easiest ways to contribute positively to society. There was an element of sacrifice (time and logistics) involved that made the contribution worth the effort. I also liked the fact that it was a random act of kindness: I was blind to who got the donation, absolving myself from judgment of whether the recipient deserved that kindness. The truth is we all deserve kindness without judgment and that is enshrined in this act.


Is there a motivation behind becoming a blood donor?
I have benefited enormously from all that society has to offer. I have been blessed with a great education, financial freedoms, good health and the things that money cannot buy. I am grateful to my country and the community that I live in. Blood donation is one way of doing good and giving back a little. It definitely involves time and priority management. We all have busy lives, but it’s important to make time to do good. I have AB+ blood (meaning I can give universal plasma, aka “liquid gold,” which only about 4% of the U.S. population has) and know that when I donate, there are many lives that benefit.


Did you ever think you would reach your 100th Milestone donation?
Not really, I was not focused on a specific number. Since my parents lived in India and I had business that took me there (and India is an endemic malaria zone with a three-month donation deferral period now for travel), I had multiple years of deferrals throughout my years of donations with Stanford Blood Center. Once I got close to my 90th donation, I definitely wanted to celebrate the milestone of giving my 100th donation with my daughter, Satvika, as she became old enough to do her first.

Every milestone in life should be celebrated. It was an opportunity to realize that I was on the path of making a difference. Every journey is a collection of small steps in life. I also realize that there are many donors with 700+ lifetime donations, so there is also that “good competition!” The idea is to do the best that you can, in ways that you can. Be a force for good in life. I also openly talk about this milestone with friends and family. This could be misinterpreted as boisterous pride, but my objective is to spread awareness and encourage others to do what they can.


What does it mean to have your daughter making her very FIRST donation?
Yes, it is great to see my daughter choosing to commit to contribute positively to society. Satvika wants to lead organizing the next SBC blood donation drive at her high school. She is developing into a great leader there as president of the environmental society. Satvika also contributes with her data science skills to research remotely as an intern in a lab associated with studying the development of neurological diseases at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. All this while keeping her weighted GPA at 4.6 this past school year. I hope she continues to contribute to her community and society!


What have you told her about becoming a blood donor?
We have been blessed with a lot in life, do the best that you can! Choose to be a force for good. Focus on your health by investing time in regular exercise and good nutrition and hydration. You have a role to play in keeping your body fit for a donation. Do what you can, when you have the opportunity to; health is not something that you can take for granted and factors beyond your control can also affect you. Choose to give and your cup will be filled. Enjoy giving and contributing to your neighborhood and society. There is such a thing as good karma and we do live in a circular society, we may not often realize this but what we put into the universe comes right back to us.


Is it extra special for you as we approach Father’s Day?
I feel blessed and grateful that she is healthy and able to contribute. You can never take anything for granted. I am happy that she believes in the cause and to the extent that I have been an influence in helping her make that choice. I feel like I am doing my job. I remember her as a kindergartener, joining me on bike rides to SBC enthusiastically to snack on the cookies and POG. Glad that she can earn her own POG now!



Satvika Iyer

satvika with coflexNote: Interviewed just prior to donation

Are you excited about your very first blood donation with Stanford Blood Center?
Yes! I’m so excited for my first blood donation at the center, hopefully one of many more to come. I believe that if you have ample access to such an essential resource as blood, it is your responsibility to share with others.


How are you feeling as you’re about to donate? Excited? Nervous? A little of both?
I am so excited to donate. When I was younger, my dad and I would bike in tandem to his donation, and I think it’s a full-circle moment to go into my first donation in tandem. Honestly, the photos my dad sends me while donating recently make it seem comparable to a cozy movie night in — curled up in a blanket while watching a movie, sipping on bottomless POG juice and toting some cookies; the reward for an invaluable donation seems to arrive in waves, some in the form of instant gratification.


Has this been something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?
Along with the list, including filing as an organ donor and getting my drivers permit, this experience is something I have wanted to do as soon as I could. A lif- altering pint in my body seemingly lazing around as surplus when it could find its defining purpose in another stream undercuts the potential of that blood, and along with giving that blood purpose, it gives me fulfillment as well.


Do you think you will become a regular blood donor?
Oh, most definitely. Plasma, or liquid gold as my dad likes to call it, is sourced only through human donation (like other blood products), and is imperative for the treatment of genetic and contracted diseases alike. It’s a simple way to give back to my community, and I know I will make time for it regularly going forward.


I understand you want to be a blood donation advocate for your high school. Have you already begun taking steps to help spread the word with your classmates?
Yes! I actually contacted Stanford Blood Center and my school’s principal in order to organize a mobile blood drive. I also believe in sharing education, since as high schoolers we can be wary and almost dismissive of anything shrouded in mystery, and the process of blood donation could be a point of less of interest in high schoolers. I think knowing the inner workings and impact of blood donation will go a long way in producing lifelong donors. Don’t hold the cookies either!


You’re making your first donation right before Father’s Day. What does that mean to you?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness, or in my case, a daughter can pay to their father. I think this is a testament to the impact my parents have had on my life so far, and, in general, the habits we see practiced by our parents are the ones we take to and emulate most easily. The fact my dad is a blood donor bodes well for his future commitment to our joint workouts, racquetball matches and Scrabble marathons: he’s not going to stop anytime soon!


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