When you donate blood, you are gifting an individual with a chance at life. You may never meet who you are helping and you may never witness the impact you have made, but your act of selflessness is bringing good into a world that is desperately in need.
The persistence of a national blood shortage has created a state of emergency. In our region, collection rates consistently fall short of what is needed. Blood cannot be manufactured, for there is no synthetic substitute. Therefore, supporting blood donation is critical.
Moreover, when you donate blood through LifeSouth Community Blood Centers — a nonprofit blood bank headquartered in Gainesville — you are directly benefiting patients at UF Health Shands, UF Health Jacksonville and UF Health Central Florida. Team members from these three locations have collaborated over the past year to form a sole-source contract with LifeSouth.
UF Health Shands has been affiliated with the blood bank for many years, which has created a ripple effect of change. UF Health Jacksonville partnered with LifeSouth beginning Aug. 1, 2021, and UF Health Central Florida began its successful transition on Nov. 1.
Not only does the relationship reduce costs for the hospitals but it also standardizes the process for delivering blood to the most vulnerable patients. It allows the community to utilize this network to prioritize matching people, regardless of their location, to even the rarest of blood products.
Sarah Wheeler, a clinical pharmacy specialist in hematology/oncology at the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, opens up her veins and her heart to optimize her opportunity to donate blood, share her story and save a local life.
“It really is quite amazing that 90 minutes of sitting in a comfortable chair while being fed snacks and watching TV can yield a product that can save or prolong someone else’s life,” she said.
Every other week, Wheeler goes to LifeSouth to donate platelets, tiny cells in blood that form clots and prevent bleeding. However, this routine is nothing new for the pharmacy specialist as she has been regularly donating blood since the age of 17.
Platelet donations, in addition to blood, are vital for patients battling cancer, a fight Wheeler knows all too well. When she was 15, her father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. At one point, he required two units of blood. Her mother was ineligible, so Wheeler felt it was her duty to step up.
Wheeler’s father was given only 18 months to live, yet he remained resilient for almost four years. His fighting spirit is what encouraged Wheeler onto her career path.
Prior to her dad’s diagnosis, Wheeler would accompany him when he would donate blood. This experience made her understand the importance of giving early on. Her grandfather regularly donated, and it transformed into a ritual outing for the duo to do it together, followed by sharing a meal.
In 2001, Wheeler’s grandfather also had surgery for prostate cancer.
“I really just think about continuing my daddy and grandpa’s legacies of service to the community and am happy that it is something that I can do,” Wheeler said.
Ultimately, it was the love for her mother that taught her how to be a primary caregiver. Five years after Wheeler’s father passed, her mother was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer. She continues to be the primary caregiver for her mother to this day.
“I fundamentally believe that most people are good and that life is hard with unexpected illnesses, accidents and tragedies happening every day,” Wheeler said. “But donating blood and platelets is a simple way to maintain that human connection and remind others that we really are all in this together.”
Read Wheeler’s full story here.
Visit LifeSouth for more information regarding the ongoing national blood shortage and the importance of donation.