While Doug deBest, Michigan Blood site manager in St. Joseph, addressed Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889, Karen Ziebart, education coordinator for four years, pricked fingers and typed blood. President Cathy Merrill was found to have the most common, O positive. (The Daily News/John Eby)
While Doug deBest, Michigan Blood site manager in St. Joseph, addressed Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889, Karen Ziebart, education coordinator for four years, pricked fingers and typed blood. President Cathy Merrill was found to have the most common, O positive. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Michigan Blood expands into Cass and Van Buren

Published 9:53am Friday, December 18, 2009

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Michigan Blood.
Former Michigan Blood Community Centers, which Dec. 8 supplanted American Red Cross as provider of products used at Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital, shortened its name in November.

Michigan Blood Community Centers was the second-longest name in America after Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Centers.

A 30-second ad spot would be over before it could identify itself.

Blood testing is its biggest expense, by far.

Millions of dollars are spent evaluating each and every blood product no less than 13 times for each donor.

Simple as ABC (Michigan Blood belongs to America’s Blood Centers), the Kent County-based non-profit company, which started in Detroit and Saginaw in 1955, exists for those two things – Michigan hospitals and life-saving state blood donors.

Headquarters moved to Kent County in 1976.

“And all we do is blood,” said Doug deBest, who joined Michigan Blood five years ago when it came to Berrien County.

Michigan Blood is expanding to Van Buren County at the same time it is entering Cass County.

It serves 32 hospitals from centers in Grand Rapids, St. Joseph, Traverse City, Saginaw, Bay City, Midland and, in three weeks, Portage, on Milham just off Westnedge.
“We provide blood to a population of more than 2 million people,” deBest said. “That number is declining, as you know, because people are leaving Michigan.”

Michigan Blood collected 103,000 pints last year and is on target to reach 130,000 pints.
Each donation is processed into red blood cells, platelets and plasma, which is how they say each gift saves three lives.
deBest, a St. Joseph Rotarian who is site manager at 2710 Cleveland Ave., just south of the football stadium in the former Chicago Title office, spoke to Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 as the guest of Cass County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Wagel. Blood typer Karen Ziebart, the organization’s education coordinator for four years, accompanied deBest.

Michigan Blood employs 480, including 33 in St. Joseph.

“Your blood type can change” under one condition, he said.

“If you get a bone marrow transplant because you have cancer and your body is not making good red blood cells. That’s the only way.”

Michigan Blood’s mobile units conduct drives across the state.

Benton Harbor and Baroda were Thursday’s sites.

“We were in Niles. We usually collect blood two days a week all over Michigan,” deBest said. “We try to get out to where people are. We take our bus to social events or city festivals and have blood drives. We’re the first cord blood bank in Michigan. We accept cord donations when mothers go in the hospital to deliver babies. Doctors take that umbilical cord that is normally thrown away, puts it in a box, our lab processes it and then puts it into a database. We do some stem cell. Karen goes to schools and puts on presentations. That’s also available free to any civic organization, such as a church health fair,” by contacting deBest at (269) 408-1540, ext. 703; to find a blood drive near you, miblood.org; or direct questions to 1-866-MIBLOOD (642-5663).

Cord blood is an expensive proposition, he indicated.

“We’re not going to take it physically from Sault Ste. Marie, but Dowagiac, we could, except they don’t deliver babies. I had that problem in Paw Paw last week. It’s got to be a hospital that delivers babies. We send moms the kit to put in her suitcase to take to the hospital. She has the baby, the cord goes in the box and is shipped to us. It’s all done ahead of time so there’s no that-day thing. I’ve had people call and say, ‘Hey! My wife’s going into labor! I need a box!’ I can’t help you with that. There’s paperwork. We only accept so many cords a day due to the huge expense.”

“Our mission is to serve our hospitals here in Michigan with blood products,” he reiterated. “That’s all we want to do. We don’t want to do anything else. We send blood products anywhere in the state, but that’s not completely true. We can send it anywhere in the United States. If people have surgeries in South Bend or Chicago, we can direct donations. We have sent stuff to Turkey and Europe.”

As for ABC, it collects blood in 45 states – more than half of the supply.

There is a national blood exchange to share surplus blood products so they don’t expire and go to waste.

“We can send products to the military,” deBest said. “This year we haven’t sent any, but last year we went 70 plasma units to Iraq through the national blood exchange.”

Michigan Blood also is available to meet disaster needs, but in the case of Hurricane Katrina slamming the Gulf Coast in 2005, “We didn’t ship them any plasma,” he said, “we shipped them materials. One of the blood centers down there was destroyed by flood waters. They needed equipment so they could get started again. A lot of times with a disaster like that, it’s not a matter of sending them blood products. People who need blood products are going to be moved away to a different hospital. All your elective surgeries that are going to be done in that area are going to be canceled.”

Funding comes from processing fees.

“Blood is voluntarily donated to us,” deBest said, “then we charge the hospitals a fee for each blood product it takes. We do turn down hospitals. Recently we turned down two because they were in an area we weren’t near. There was no way to provide them good service.”

“MI blood saves lives” is Michigan Blood’s new “brand promise” on pamphlets, challenge cards from the competition between Allegan’s morning and noon Rotary clubs, 56-day blood donation calendars and pens.

“That’s what we want you to remember,” deBest said.

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