Right next to our North Texas office in Bedford, our neighbors at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford work every day to find ways to help patients through blood transfusion and research. We were lucky enough to sit down with a few of their lab professionals to learn more about what they do, and why they are passionate about their work. John Michael Peters, M.D., has been a pathologist on the medical staff at Texas Health HEB for 5 years, after moving closer to his family. Julia Blackburn, MT (ASCP) BB, has been at the hospital for 35 years, working as the clinical lab scientist lead for Transfusion Services. Sharon Harris has been a lab director for 15 years.
What attracted each of you to work with blood transfusion and research?
Blackburn: I always knew I wanted to help people, but nursing wasn’t for me. In high school, we had a career fair and representatives from a laboratory were there. It sparked an interest in pathology for me so that’s where I headed.
Harris: I was unsure of my path in college until I entered the medical technician field. I chose to specialize in blood banking because to me, it was like solving a puzzle. Puzzles to identify antibodies in someone’s system, or puzzles to find a cure. I love everything about it.
Blackburn: I agree. Blood banking is like solving a mystery that can affect someone’s life in such a great way.
Dr. Peters: As a pathologist, I do a little bit of everything, but my specialty is hematology. From a diagnostic perspective, that area has the most integration of molecular and other studies into diagnosis. It’s putting pieces together until you figure out the best way to help someone.
Which departments at your hospital see the greatest need for transfusion?
Blackburn: Cancer and cardiac patients tend to be the most popular in our department.
Dr. Peters: We have a great staff of oncologic surgeons who use blood products a lot. A lot of patients going through chemo need it for support during therapy, which is something most people don’t even realize.
How often do you need to put in orders to Carter BloodCare for more products?
Harris: We get orders around the clock for specific patients. Each day, we put in a stock order in the morning, and then each day has its own needs. Some days our stock order is enough, and sometimes we send them stat orders up to 10 times a day.
Blackburn: We can easily be fulfilling up to 10 orders an hour for specific patients, so on those days we are very fortunate to be so close to Carter BloodCare.
Harris: We have developed a great relationship with Carter, so when they have short dates on some units, we use those first since we are so close. It allows us to utilize products in time and ensure that every donation counts.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle towards getting more people to give?
Dr. Peters: A lot of people don’t realize that people are in need all times of the year, and every donation has an expiration date.
Blackburn: And some people just get busy. The end of October to the end of the year is what we call GI season. We have more people coming in with ulcers and injuries, and we have less units coming our way.
Dr. Peters: Trauma patients really increase that time of year, and sometimes we get worried because our supply gets so low. We understand people get busy around the holidays, but it is so important to stress the importance of donation then because our need is so high.
Harris: And the flu is so prevalent then. People are either scared they will get it from donation, which is impossible, or they have it so they can’t give.
Blackburn: Combine the flu with the holidays and winter is a really tough time for us.
Why do you think some people don’t regularly donate, if they donate at all?
Dr. Peters: A lot of people put it off. People find it inconvenient or slightly uncomfortable. I think most people just don’t see the immediacy of the need unless they or someone they know is in that position.
Blackburn: A lot of people are scared or pass out at the sight of needles. It’s a big challenge for us.
What would you say to tell those people there’s nothing to be afraid of?
Dr. Peters: Go with a friend. If there is a drive or donation center near you, get a friend to go with you for support. If they have donated before, they can help you understand how simple the process really is.
Blackburn: Moral support does a lot. I’ve held hands with people while they donated or distracted them from looking at the needle. Some people just have an unusual fear and it’s hard to get past that. But if you are scared, it is still important to tell others the good of giving blood, especially children and younger generations.
Do you have a story or situation with a patient that has stuck with you?
Blackburn: One time, we had a female patient come in who had been hit by a cement truck while she was sitting at a stop sign. When she came in, almost every bone in her body was broken. We had to replace a lot of blood and utilize a lot of blood components for her. But three months later, that woman was able to walk out with just the assistance of crutches. Those kind of things stick with you because it’s great to be a part of saving someone’s life.
Harris: For me, it is one of our daily safety meetings among department directors. We supply a lot of blood to the Women’s Care department. There was one woman who had Postpartum bleed. When that happens, a patient can bleed out in less than 15 minutes, but we were able to get them the products they needed in time. At a meeting, that director was talking about this patient and said she was proud of the communication we have among one another and how great it was that my group was able to step up in time.
Dr. Peters: That happens a lot in oncology, too.
Harris: Yeah, we transfuse a lot. Oncology patients need us because chemo knocks out virtually all blood cells so they need transfusion for support. We will see those patients coming by a lot, and sometimes get to know them. It’s great to see our impact first-hand.
Dr. Peters: A lot of people don’t think about blood until they need it and it isn’t there.
Blackburn: One time I heard someone say that if every person who is eligible gave blood on his or her birthday, we would never have a shortage.
Harris: You never know when it will affect you or someone you know, so it is important to step up before you’re in need.
Blackburn: It’s such a quick, easy way to help people. You never know how much you can help when you give blood.